Will she or won’t she?
That’s the question on the minds of politicos in Kentucky and all across the nation. Will Ashley Judd challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for reelection in 2014? So far, the scales have tipped both ways. Earlier this year, it seemed a certainty that Judd would run. Rumors were floated, and Judd didn’t deny it. She came to Washington to meet with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and even gave a campaign-style speech at George Washington University on female health issues. Of course, her best bit of promotion came through the McConnell campaign itself, which preemptively ran scathing ads against her. The ads were effective in painting her in a negative light – but they also raised her profile as a politician, and showed that she was considered a serious contender.
But recently, things have cooled down. Guy Cecil, director of the DSCC, said two weeks ago there was “a handful of quality candidates” for the Democratic nomination in Kentucky. He did cite Judd as one of them, but he also mentioned current KY Secretary of State Alison Grimes in the same breath. If it looks like the DSCC is not yet sure about Judd, it’s easy to understand why. According to DSCC polls, Grimes has a better chance of beating McConnell than Judd – and that’s before the McConnell team has has really gone after Judd. The only problem with Grimes is that she is not committed to running and may be considering a run for governor instead.
The DSCC needs to figure this out because it’s a golden pickup opportunity. McConnell is currently the least-popular senator up for reelection in the country, and taking down the Senate Minority Leader would be a major feather in the DSCC’s cap. But I can see why they are having difficulty choosing, as Judd brings both tangible positives and deeply concerning negatives that could be potentially fatal to her race. I’ve been trying to figure out where I stand on this, and I really see it both ways. So let me make both arguments, and you can tell me what Judd should do. Today, we will tackle why Judd should run – and why she would win if she does.
Name recognition. It goes a long way in politics, and from what I’m told, the Judd name is as good as gold in Kentucky – not necessarily from Ashley, but from her mother and sister, both of whom are country music legends. The Judds are kind of like royalty in Kentucky. McConnell has already aired an ad featuring video of Judd saying that she “considers Tennessee [her] home,” but I imagine the Judd family name will be able to overcome that.
The convergence of politics and entertainment will work in her favor. Several prior celebrities ran for office and won in eras in which strong leadership was needed to fill the void of government dysfunction – the cult of celebrity seemed a shortcut to leadership in the eyes of the voters. Ronald Reagan won in the shadow of Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech, an energy crisis, and a damaging hostage situation in Iran. Arnold Schwarzenegger responded to an electricity crisis and paralysis in the dysfunctional California state legislature with quips from his movies and a promise to pound the “girly men” into submission. Judd’s celebrity could translate into support from voters who are desperate for leadership in a historically dysfunctional Senate – and blame her opponent McConnell for much of that dysfunction.
We are really into electing women right now. The 2012 election was a watershed moment for women’s issues. Obama won reelection with an historic gender gap thanks to two factors: his record on women’s issues and the shockingly insensitive remarks made by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” Obama was able to hang Akin’s comments around the neck of the entire GOP, and both he and down-ticket female candidates benefited. The U.S. Senate currently has 20 female Senators, more than at any time in history, and several states sent women to the Senate for the first time ever. Of course, the films of 2012 predicted this tectonic shift, with many female actresses playing the role of action star traditionally reserved for men (Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hunger Games, Brave, Prometheus). In this era, it seems only natural that a female action star like Judd could make the jump to politics.
Money. McConnell won’t have any problems raising money, but Judd could break records. The DSCC should be able to raise enormous amounts of money to help a well-liked celebrity like Judd take on the hated Minority Leader, but Judd’s biggest haul should come from her friends in Hollywood. Democrats in Hollywood have now established themselves as a significant source of fundraising for the Democratic party, and they should be eager to flex their muscles to help one of their own get to the Senate. George Clooney raised $15 million at a single event for President Obama; Hollywood should be able to top that over the course of a Judd for Kentucky campaign.
So there it is. The time is right for a Judd campaign. But will it happen? Judd has said that she won’t announce anything until May, and right now the tea leaves are too hard to read. Check back soon for an opposing piece outlining the many challenges a Judd candidacy would face – or why maybe she shouldn’t run at all.
What do you think so far?