Could Ashley Judd beat Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014?
The actress and advocate for liberal causes is considering a run for Senate in solidly red Kentucky
The scuttlebutt started about a month ago: Movie star and political novice Ashley Judd might be considering a run for Senate, probably in Kentucky, and likely against the highest ranking Republican in the upper chamber, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many people — including Judd's own grandmother — were skeptical, but now Politico's Manu Raju reports that Judd is "seriously exploring a 2014 run for the Senate to take on the powerful Republican leader." She has spoken with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) about the idea, contacted a pollster, and conducted opposition research on herself "to see where she's most vulnerable in the Bluegrass State." In other words, a McConnell-Judd matchup "might not be as far-fetched as you think."
Judd grew up in Kentucky and went to the University of Kentucky (she still attends basketball games there). But these days, Judd lives in Tennessee and Scotland, the native land of husband Dario Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner. Even the actress' grandmother, Polly Judd, says Ashley is "a Hollywood liberal," not exactly an endorsement in solidly red Kentucky. Judd has also never run for elective office before, and McConnell is a bare-knuckled opponent who promises to (figuratively) bloody any Democrat who opposes him.
Still, McConnell spent $20 million in his last race, and only beat Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford by 6 percentage points. Judd would surely be a prolific fundraiser. And while McConnell is a local institution — heralded as the man who built the state GOP into the dominant political force it is — Judd is, well, a Judd. She's the daughter of country music legend Naomi Judd and an eighth-generation Kentuckian. So not everyone is bearish on a Judd candidacy:
Well, let me throw a little cold water on this fantasy, says political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg at Roll Call. Kentucky has elected Democratic governors and state legislators, but no Democrat has won a statewide federal race since Bill Clinton in 1996, and "the last Democrat to win a Senate race was Wendell Ford in 1992." Judd isn't the candidate to reverse the party's Bluegrass State fortunes.
I don't doubt Judd's passion for politics or public policy. I don't doubt her ability to raise money — lots of money — from both the entertainment community and from fans and admirers. And I don't doubt her ability to get coverage for her candidacy on Entertainment Tonight and MSNBC or in the pages of America's most prominent print publications. I doubt her ability to get elected to the Senate from Kentucky, or even from her home state of Tennessee.... I am quite certain that the pro-choice Democratic group [EMILY's List] could raise a lot of money nationally by using her name in fundraising. But that is part of the reason why she could not win a Senate race in Kentucky. She would be a Hollywood-backed celebrity in a decidedly non-Hollywood state.... In fact, in a midterm election during President Barack Obama's second term, Ashley Judd would have about the same chance of getting elected to the Senate in Kentucky as Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., would have of being elected president of EMILY's List.
Never say never, counters Gail Collins at The New York Times. Kentucky is conservative, "but it also has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. People depend on programs like Social Security and Medicare," two entitlements McConnell wants to slash. "The Democrats may not have much homegrown talent with his kind of money, but this Ashley Judd thing has opened up all sorts of possibilities." She isn't the only famous Democrat from Kentucky, after all. "If Ashley doesn't work out, there's always George Clooney."