Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has an unprecedented re-election battle on the horizon. Despite his power in Congress, at home, he is incredibly vulnerable.
McConnell holds a dubious honor as the country’s most unpopular Senator, and only 17% of voters in his home state of Kentucky are committed to voting for him. For many, he represents everything that is wrong with Washington: The left have attacked him for the record-breaking levels of filibustering holding up business in the Senate; the Tea Party is angry over his capitulations to big government spending. Further, high-profile mistakes, like his outrage at the Pentagon which stemmed from an online parody website or accidentally filibustering his own bill, have contributed to cries in Kentucky for a new face in the Senate.
Enter Ashley Judd. Raised as a Kentuckian, her experience and active participation in Bluegrass politics have led Democrats around the country to rally around her as-yet unconfirmed election bid. There are several reasons why liberals find her candidacy compelling.
2. She’s been a U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, as well as a representative to the UN General Assembly.
3. She has plenty of name recognition in the state, so her campaign could focus on the issues and not building her brand. Further, her status as a Hollywood actress would bring lots of cash and massive media attention to the race, putting McConnell in the uncomfortable position of having to justify campaign decisions to the entire country.
4. She would start out the campaign just 9-points behind the minority leader; that’s an astounding level of support for someone who hasn’t even entered the race yet.
Of course, Judd is not perfect, and some state-level Democrats are not impressed. For one, they say her liberal attitude and outspoken support for President Obama will hurt her (and downballot candidates) in a state where Obama lost by 23-points. She’s politically inexperienced, having never run for public office, and she doesn’t even live in Kentucky anymore.
Perhaps her biggest challenge will be clarifying her past remarks about coal mining: it is a huge industry in the state, and she’s run several campaigns against the process called mountain-top removal, calling it the “rape of the Appalachia.” It’s important not to underestimate the power of coal; former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler was unseated in KY-6 after his support of mining was challenged by Republican Andy Barr. Any politician running for statewide office must court Eastern Kentucky and convince those (mostly Democratic) voters of their coal bona fides. Judd may find that necessary task difficult.
Most sources close to the actress believe she is serious about running, and she is taking high-profile meetings with New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand, Kentucky's Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, and the DSCC. She may also be getting some help from an unexpected source: the Kentucky Tea Party has already announced they plan to run a primary challenger against McConnell, and all but guaranteed that the fight would be brutal for the six-term Senator.
What all pundits can agree on, however, is that the election will not be easy, no matter who is nominated. McConnell is recognized nationally as one of the most aggressive and effective campaigners in politics, and he has a daunting $7 million war chest. His campaign has already started running opposition ads, as have outside groups like conservative American Crossroads PAC and liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee.