Ashley Judd announced via Twitter on Wednesday, March 27 that she will not run for the Senate seat currently held by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, leaving the race to 34-year old Alison Lundergan Grimes, current Kentucky Secretary of State. While many are disappointed Judd is dropping out, Grimes has a real chance at defeating McConnell. Judd told sources that she felt the timing for her run was not right, but people believe the decision emerged from interest expressed by Grimes to enter the race.
Prominent Kentucky Democrats have expressed discouragement at Judd's decision, but the Democrats have a much stronger candidate in Alison Lundergan Grimes than Judd. Judd's candidacy has been making headlines recently because of her Hollywood profile, high visibility visits to Washington, D.C., to meet with prominent Democrats, and preemptive attacks ads against her by Republican Super PACs.
But Grimes has substantive political and legal experience, having defeated Republican Bill Johnson in the 2011 election with over 60% of the Kentucky vote. Prior to that, she worked in intellectual property and complex business litigation and was a member of the 2008 rules committee of the Democratic National Committee. While Judd had the support of Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Grimes has been wooed recently by Bill and Hillary Clinton and other influential Democrats who have been quietly encouraging Grimes even while Judd's campaign chances were high.
The Clintons' support comes as a result of Bill Clinton's longtime friendship with Grimes's father, former Kentucky Democratic chairman Jerry Lundergran, an influential and well-connected Kentuckian. Grimes's Kentucky legacy is an important advantage she has over Judd, who had already started attracting smear campaigns by Republicans for not being homegrown. McConnell is already well-known for running the "meanest, most negative" campaigns in the Senate as his strategy to retain his seat, and would have aggressively profiled Judd as a 'Hollywood liberal' coming to interfere with Kentucky politics. Grimes has little to no political baggage because of her relatively short public career but is well known and respected within Kentucky, which will force McConnell's campaign staff to work harder at painting Grimes as incompetent.
Grimes's candidacy evens the playing field for a Democrat to take Kentucky for more than Judd, whose aggressively liberal politics would have been an easy target for McConnell to further paint her as an outsider who does not relate to average Kentuckians. Some Democrats were even concerned that Judd's candidacy would have political ramifications in other Kentucky races including the state house, which is the only state chamber where Democrats are in the majority.
McConnell will still put up an ugly fight against Grimes, and will more likely try to paint her as an Obama lackey because of Grimes's support for President Obama in a state where his approval is dismal. While Judd would have brought diverse national attention and fundraisers to the campaign, some are unsure of how Grimes will fare compared to McConnell's three-decade old well-oiled fundraising machine. Grimes has not yet officially entered the race, and people close to her have reported she is also eyeing the governor's office in 2015.
Even though Judd has dropped out, and Grimes has yet to officially run for the Democratic nomination, one thing is for certain — this will be an important and entertaining race to watch in 2014.