It's semi-official, says Howard Fineman at The Huffington Post: "Ashley Judd, the 44-year-old actress and social activist, has told key advisers and political figures that she is planning to announce her candidacy for U.S. Senate here this spring," around the time of the Kentucky Derby. Judd "offered a not-quite-ironclad denial," but Republicans are already running against her, and assuming these sources are right, Kentucky's 2014 Senate race is about to get unusually interesting.
First, Judd would have to get the Democratic nomination, says Fineman, but that's easier than it sounds: Most Bluegrass State Democrats are focusing on the upcoming gubernatorial race, and few have the desire or cash to face "the methodically accusatory machine of the five-term Republican senator — and Senate minority leader — Mitch McConnell." Judd, on the other hand, can pretty easily raise millions for a race, and the "fearless" actress "would not necessarily lose a bar fight if she got into one, which she is about to do."
Naturally, political analysts are already offering free advice to the not-yet-candidate. Here are some things Judd might want to keep in mind as she prepares to jump in to a barroom brawl with McConnell:
1. Hollywood will get you in the door, but it won't seal the deal
Judd's core challenge is to run an entertaining campaign while keeping her entertainment career at a safe distance, says Alan Schroeder at The Huffington Post.
When entertainers run for office, they bring along a complicated set of associations, associations that inevitably color how voters perceive them. These associations can be positive, negative, or some combination thereof. The trick for professional performers transitioning into politics is to maximize the good feelings, sprinkle pixie dust over the bad, and get voters to accept them in a newly defined role. [Huffington Post]
Being a glamorous movie star will make Kentucky pay attention to her, but it also opens her up to the charge of being a "Hollywood liberal" in a light-red state. Judd really is more liberal than most Kentucky Democratic politicians, especially on environmental and social issues, so she'll "have to balance two imperatives: Staying true to her convictions without letting herself get too far ahead of Kentucky voters," Schroeder says.
2. Don't be a stranger — or a carpetbagger
Judd will also have to "work overtime to convince voters she has not lost touch with her Kentucky roots," says Lauren Fox at U.S. News. That means moving back to the state where she was raised and attended college, ASAP.
"A path to victory does not include New York, Washington and Hollywood. It includes Lexington, Louisville, and Pikeville," says Dale Emmons, a Democratic strategist in Kentucky that has managed campaigns against McConnell before. "This is a place people expect to see you and talk to you."... Experts warn Judd's going to have to launch an aggressive ground game, relocate to Kentucky from Tennessee, where she currently lives, and be ready for a knock-down drag-out fight. [U.S. News]
"Judd would be well advised to study the example of Hillary Clinton, another candidate accused of carpetbagging," says The Huffington Post's Schroeder. Like Clinton, Judd should embark on a listening tour across Kentucky, getting to know her onetime home state and its local reporters. And while there's a good chance she'll move to Lexington, the home of her alma mater, University of Kentucky, "it might make political sense for her to relocate not to urban Louisville or Lexington, but back to her hardscrabble hometown of Ashland on the Ohio River."
Basing herself in Ashland would plant Judd's personal narrative front and center. It's a story worth repeating, because her journey to Hollywood stardom from humble local beginnings establishes an instant connection with voters. She's the Kentucky girl who made it big and decided to come home to work on behalf of her community. Frank Capra couldn't concoct a better premise. [Huffington Post]
3. Prove you're a serious candidate
Judd is hardly the first celebrity to run for office, says Ruby Cramer at BuzzFeed. "Clint Eastwood and Sonny Bono; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fred Thompson; Al Franken and, of course, Ronald Reagan all faced the same suggestions that they were just lightweights playing their latest roles." And they all won "by following roughly the same formula: Starting early, staying local, and preventing their celebrity from weighing 'like a huge tire around the neck' on the campaign trail."
The successful celebrity candidates were also helped by "the early interest they showed in politics long before their campaigns for public office," says Cramer. Judd does have "her own extensive resume in politics and humanitarian work," from earning a master's in public policy from Harvard to working with EMILY's List and the Obama campaigns to traveling to Africa on behalf of YouthAIDS. But stumping for Obama and progressive female politicians isn't a sure selling point in Kentucky, and people don't necessarily connect global charity work to their own pocketbook issues.
"Compared with other entertainers who have run for office, Ashley Judd steps into the ring well prepared," says Schroeder. "She is more Al Franken than Sonny Bono." But her biggest opportunity may be the public's dislike of Congress. "As a candidate, Judd must establish herself from the outset as a people's politician, an outsider willing to fight for the powerless. McConnell, a creature of Washington if there ever was one, appears highly vulnerable on this point."