he GOP isn't waiting for Ashley Judd to decide whether she'll challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for his seat in 2014. Republicans have already cranked up their opposition research machine, says Lois Romano at Politico, and are "homing in with glee on the actress and activist, picking apart her views and statements and compiling a thick compendium of speeches, writings, and tweets." (The Daily Caller even posted a baffling and offensive article listing movies in which Judd has appeared nude — employing the terrible headline "Ashley Judd, potential U.S. Senate candidate, sure has done a lot of on-screen nudity." Liberals quickly derided this as preemptive "slut-shaming.")
But ill-conceived articles aside, the actress does have a history of expressing unorthodox views — for example, she recently explained that she never had children because "it's unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries." GOP strategists say they'll be able to use Judd's "bizarre comments" to make Democrats squirm.
Some political analysts, however, say there's another reason for the GOP offensive — Republicans are afraid Judd could actually win. "Kentucky is a reliably Republican state," says Juan Williams at Fox News, "but shows signs of becoming more welcoming to Democrats." Judd is only trailing McConnell by nine points in early polls, and the veteran senator's approval rating is below 50 percent — a recipe for an upset. GOP strategic mastermind Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC is undertaking a $10,000 preemptive online advertising campaign to attack Judd as an elite Hollywood liberal and to "make fun" of her, Williams says, but the truth is that McConnell could use the help. If the GOP's top senator goes down, it will be "a humiliating defeat for the national party," and despite the effort to paint her as a lightweight, Judd is a real threat.
No doubt her most obvious political asset is her fame. She has starred in several successful movies. She is the daughter of country music star Naomi Judd. She also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky. She has not held elected office.
Any attempt to belittle her political credentials could backfire on McConnell. Female voters may find it condescending. And Judd is uniquely positioned to paint McConnell as out of touch with female voters. He recently led a group of 22 male Republicans senators in voting against the Violence Against Women Act. [Fox News]
Or perhaps Judd really is the candidate the GOP is hoping will run against McConnell. Yes, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post, her celebrity would make her an instant favorite among progressives, and her celebrity connections would help her raise a pile of campaign cash. But McConnell has a "proven ability to make his re-election races about his opponents," and Judd would make that part of his job easy.
If Judd could be ensured of raising millions, couldn't McConnell use Judd's presence in the race to do the exact same thing? In a world without Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton to raise national conservative money off of, couldn't Judd fill that role not just for McConnell but for other Republicans running for Senate?
It's hard to imagine McConnell winning more than 53 or 54 percent of the vote against any Democratic candidate — including Judd. But, while Judd's capacity to raise money is a clear strength, she seems to be a candidate tailor-made (and not in a good way) for the sort of campaign McConnell wants to run and has shown an affinity for in the past. [Washington Post]
Either way, this could be the race to watch in 2014, as it will be both important for the balance of power in Washington, and entertaining. If Judd runs, Williams says, "Get out the popcorn!"
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