By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MELBOURNE - In an age of political campaigns driven by TV ads, focus groups, polling and hired handlers, a handshake still matters.
A crowd of 1,100 or so turned out Wednesday for Campbell County's annual Senior Citizen Picnic at Pendery Park, a feeding frenzy for politicians anxious to personally work a crowd that actually turns out to vote.
Ruth Doremus said the picnic harks back to a different day, when politics was all about personal contact.
"I like it out here because you really get a chance to meet people and talk to them," said Doremus, 73, of Newport. "That's the way it always used to be, and out here it still is."
Politicians want to see people such as Doremus - senior citizens who get to the polls on Election Day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 70 percent of Americans age 65 to 74 reported voting in the 2000 election, compared to 67 percent for the 55 to 64 age group, 62 percent for the 45 to 54 age group and 54 percent for voters age 18 to 24.
By the sheer number of statewide candidates present, Republicans trumped Democrats at the picnic.
Three GOP hopefuls attended: Steve Pence, who is running on a ticket with gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher; secretary of state candidate Trey Grayson of Park Hills, who attended with his wife, Nancy, and their children, Alex, 2 and Kate, 4 months; and Adam Koenig, the Kenton County commissioner running for treasurer.
More than any other group, seniors respond to a politician's personal touch, Pence said after shaking hands and patting backs during a bingo game.
"These folks get out and vote," said Pence, who last week attended Boone County's senior citizens picnic. "And what's great about these picnics is we're out, the other side's not and I think these people notice that. They want to know they are important, they want to know that people are thinking about them ... and that's why we're bringing our message to them."
No Democratic candidates attended, though the party had plenty of political proxies handing out campaign stickers and literature, including Lucie "Toss" Chandler, the mother of gubernatorial candidate Ben Chandler.
"I tell people to vote for Ben, but not just because he's my son," she said, "but because he has done a good job as attorney general and auditor and he'll be a great governor."
Democrats did appear to win the sign battle that is always waged along Ky. 8, the main road leading into Pendery Park.
This year the road was thick with signs for Chandler and his running mate, Charlie Owen thanks to Campbell County Commissioner Dave Otto.
"I was out until 9:30 (Tuesday) night, digging holes and putting up signs," said Otto, a Fort Thomas Democrat and key member of the Chandler/Owen campaign in Campbell County. "They can make a difference, especially at this event. People expect to see signs when they come to the picnic. And signs work, they get the word out."
"I'll agree with that, it worked for me," chimed in Campbell County Property Value Administrator Daniel Braun, a Republican elected last year.
Though politics is a big part of the picnic it's not the only reason people come. The event, paid for by the Campbell County Fiscal Court and various sponsors, features a hot dog lunch, chicken dinner, bingo games, music, dancing, and cold beer and soft drinks.
"We do this not as a political event," said Campbell County Commissioner Bill Verst, "but as a way to honor and thank our seniors."
But politics always has, and always will be, a main feature of the day.
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