Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke Saturday at the Fancy Farm picnic, one of Kentucky’s classic political events, but his remarks were largely drowned out by jeers from the Democratic side of the crowd, who stomped their feet and yelled, “RETIRE,” and “DITCH MITCH” as he spoke.
McConnell’s appearance at the picnic comes amid recent questions about his health and political future. Late last month, he froze mid-sentence during a press conference in the US Capitol and had to be led away from the podium by his fellow senators and his aides. The Republican leader, 81, later returned and answered questions from the press, telling CNN’s Manu Raju, “I’m fine.”
In a statement several days after the incident, McConnell’s office said that he plans to continue to serve as Senate minority leader until the end of the 118th Congress. However, they did not say whether he plans to run for leader again in 2025, or for reelection to the Senate in 2026.
Speculation about McConnell’s future has become more common since he suffered a concussion and broken ribs after a fall in March. He was hospitalized and spent several weeks recuperating, including some time at an inpatient rehabilitation facility.
Earlier Saturday, McConnell entered the Graves County Republican Party Breakfast to a standing ovation and applause. But voters expressed some concern about how his health will affect his ability to continue serving in the Senate.
“This is my 28th Fancy Farm and I want to assure you it’s not my last,” McConnell told the crowd. “The people of this state have chosen me seven times to do this job, and I want you to know how grateful I am,” he added.
One young voter at the Graves County breakfast, Garrett Whiten, told CNN, “I think his time is probably about up.”
“I’m against older candidates, the current president, Mitch McConnell,” he added. “I think that they’ve run their course in politics, I think they’d be good for backing people now. But I think politics now is more of a young man’s game.”
However, some are willing to vote for him if he runs in 2026, despite their concerns.
“I’d vote for him. I, like all of his supporters, are concerned about – I want him to be healthy and safe,” said Phil Myers.
“But if he’s the Republican nominee, I will vote for him again, as I’ve voted for him every time he’s run, and I’d support him every way I could.”
Myers maintained that McConnell has “never backed down from a challenge. If I were 80 years old, and had a concussion, it’d take me a couple of months or a year to get over that. I mean, it’s normal, what doctors will tell you, that’s normal for a person that age.”
He continued, “He’s a very smart man. I mean, he’s been able to keep things from far left California, some of those ideas they have from being national policy. So I support Mitch McConnell.”
CNN has previously reported that McConnell also fell two other times in 2023, once on a trip to Finland to meet with the nation’s president, and at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, as he was exiting a plane.
McConnell freezes in press conference and is unable to finish statement
McConnell survived polio as a child, resulting in a slight limp that has grown more pronounced in recent years. In 2019 he suffered a fall at home in Kentucky and fractured his shoulder.
Every year, on the first Saturday in August, Kentucky’s politicians descend on the rural town of Fancy Farm in the Western corner of the state. While the voters and their families eat barbecue, play bingo, compete in a 5k race and enter raffles, candidates for every office from governor to state auditor to agricultural commissioner gather to give speeches and glad-hand with their constituents.
The picnic is hosted by St. Jerome, a Catholic Church in town, and boasts “the world’s largest one-day barbecue” as well as a long history of political speeches.
“While each picnic brings something unique, they all have three things in common: hot weather, hot barbecue and hot politics,” the Church’s website reads.
“Some of the nation’s most prominent politicians have addressed the crowds from the speakers’ stand, dating back to US Vice-President Alben Barkley, a native of the nearby town of Wheel, Kentucky,” the Church adds. “Attending in 1975 was Presidential candidate George Wallace, who had survived an assassination attempt to another part of the country. He told the crowd he was still ‘a little gun-shy’ after a photographer’s flash bulb exploded twice during a misty rain.”
Republicans at Saturday’s picnic were deferential toward the Senate Republican leader, giving him another standing ovation as he entered. Rep. James Comer began his remarks by saying “I want to thank Senator Mitch McConnell for the close working relationship that he and I have,” and McConnell joked that the event’s emcee, David Beck, took longer to introduce the senator than he was allotted to speak.
This story has been updated with additional information.