WESTERN KENTUCKY -- It's an annual political rite like no other, or so they tell me: out here in rural Kentucky, thousands are descending on the the tiny town of Fancy Farm to eat barbecue, party and listen to politicians try to tell jokes.
For years, the Fancy Farm picnic has marked the beginning of campaign season in the Bluegrass State. Politicians gather here and give speeches that are supposed to be funny, and -- locals tell me -- often take direct aim at the other side in a way you rarely hear on the campaign trail. Officially, the event is known as the St. Jerome Catholic Church picnic, but everyone here calls the day of barbecue, raffles and politicking Fancy Farm.
This year's Fancy Farm comes as the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky has grabbed the national spotlight. Political junkies from across the state will be here today to watch Republican nominee Rand Paul and Democratic nominee Jack Conway take potshots at each other from the Fancy Farm stage. The men are locked in a nasty campaign and how each will handle the unique Fancy Farm environment (the audience is expected, if not encouraged, to loudly heckle the candidates they don't like) is the subject of much speculation out here.
The Paducah Sun, the local paper for the event, has been reporting every detail of the pre-Fancy Farm planning. The website for the paper is subscription only, so here's a look at the pre-Fancy Farm reporting for each canddiate as picked up in the Louisville Courier-Journal:
Paul: "Paul told a group in Western Kentucky that he would go with a written speech for the event -- rather than an extemporaneous address as he normally does. A written speech helps a candidate to stay on message and avoid saying something that he doesn't mean to say."
Conway: "Look for Conway to try to avoid controversy too. He was criticized last year for his speech in which he boasted to the crowd that he was 'one tough son of a bitch.' ... the church responded by banning cursing at the event -- which some have dubbed 'The Conway Rule.'"
Today's festivities kick off with a Republican breakfast featuring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.
Stay tuned today for updates on who gaffes it up this afternoon, and who sticks to the script.
The TPM Poll Average for the Kentucky Senate race shows Paul leading Conway 46.3-41.0.