If I had to take a wild guess, I would bet that potentially the most intriguing race of the 2014 election cycle is the possibility of a showdown between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and actress Ashley Judd in Kentucky.
The intrigue is obvious. McConnell is the Minority Leader after all and Judd is a high-profile Hollywood actress with bona fide credentials (Master’s degree from Harvard in public administration, longtime activist), to not have some sort of outside level of intrigue would be political blasphemy.
But Democrats are hot and cold on the idea of a Judd candidacy and Republicans may or may not be licking their lips in anticipation. I, myself, love Ashley Judd’s politics but have wondered several times if she is the ideal candidate Democrats should have in their possibly only attempt to pickup a seat in ’14. So what should Democrats do? Is this a seat that might be more of a tease than pickup opportunity and if not, is Ashley Judd really the perfect Kentucky candidate?
The pros of a Judd campaign are certainly strong and do bolster her case quite well.
Ashley Judd is about as progressive as you can get which makes her ideologically a great choice for Democrats. Democrats have long tired of “Blue Dog” candidates that appear to abandon the party at precisely the wrong times. While Judd will represent a more red state than fellow liberals such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, I don’t expect her to stray too far away from the party at all. Definite plus there for party purists.
Another boon to a Judd candidacy would be the money she would be able to fundraise. Thanks to her Hollywood connections, Judd would probably be able to bankroll plenty of money to counteract Mitch McConnell whose warchest will likely be huge. Judd’s progressivism will also help her earn boatloads of cash from the netroots that helped catapult Elizabeth Warren into the Senate. Plus the President of EMILY’s List has been upbeat about the potential of a run which would lead to plenty of money in the Judd campaign. Fundraising and money would be no problem with Ashley Judd.
Due to her status as an actress and the hype around a potential campaign, Judd already has about as high of name recognition as a potential challenger could have. Usually it takes some time for a Representative, State Senator, State Rep., Mayor, etc. to build up the name recognition during the course of a campaign. Judd already has it.
One of the last major positives for a Judd campaign is that she’s a notable enough candidate to make the NRSC play defense. Any resource that could go to unseating Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan, Mark Begich or Jeanne Shaheen would be wasted on defending McConnell’s seat. Every dollar spent on McConnell and attacking Judd slightly ups the chances of retaining a couple of critical Senate seats.
Cons, however, also exist in the possibility of an Ashley Judd campaign; so we must delve into them.
The biggest con of an Ashley Judd campaign is the simple fact that she’s in blood red Kentucky. Ashley Judd is a progressive in every sense of the word which would be awesome in a state like Massachusetts or New Jersey but not so much in Kentucky, a state that’s reliant on coal. Judd is against mountaintop removal, which puts her in line with most Democrats, but would hurt her in a general election to the point where it could cost her the victory. You don’t have to be Joe Manchin to win Kentucky, but it is certainly not easy to be an environmentalist and swing independents over.
Another con is that Judd is actually a Tennessee resident and has yet to declare residency in Kentucky. Now the potential of “carpet-bagging” being the ultimate end-all, be-all might not always be true. Yet I don’t imagine all locals of ANY state in the Union being too thrilled at the idea of someone from another state moving to another for political purposes. It is a potentially awkward conversation and one that Judd needs to address sooner rather than later.
What could also hurt Judd in the campaign is that the NRSC has already launched a bevy of attacks on her. While that’s not too relevant right now, since Judd isn’t a declared candidate it’s mostly falling on deaf ears outside the political sphere, there does appear to be a bit of eagerness of the idea of a Judd candidacy on the right. The idea of a liberal running in Kentucky definitely has to relax some members of the Republican oligarchy.
Even after writing out the pros and cons of a Judd campaign, I’m still hedging my bets on the fence but I have to lean towards the idea that her winning seems a bit more unlikely than likely. I think she’s more qualified than several “famous names” who have ran for Congress or the Senate and her political views are dead equal to mine. Yet if the point is potentially winning the seat, doesn’t Judd seem a bit blue for a red state?
I love the suggestion that was made over at the DailyKos that Ashley Judd run for Congress in her home state of Tennessee. Jim Cooper is a Democrat who represents the 5th Congressional District (heavily Democratic) but has about as conservative of a record as any Democrat in the House. Judd could primary Cooper, win and then the House would become a slightly more darker hue of blue than it is currently. I would hate for Ashley Judd to not be in political office and I think this would be an excellent opportunity for the Democratic Party.
If Judd demurs on a run, Kentucky SoS Alison Lundergan Grimes who is a rising star in Kentucky politics might take a look at the race. Grimes is obviously to the left of McConnell but could be a “nay” vote on any pro-environmental legislation. Other candidates seem to have demurred on a Senate including 2010 nominee and Attorney General Jack Conway.