Is the Ashley Judd Tide Turning?

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For the past several days, there have been a series of articles quoting Kentucky insiders decrying the possibility of an Ashley Judd candidacy in the 2014 race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

My article on Newsweek/The Daily Beast, “Ashley Judd Can Win a Senate Run Against Mitch McConnell” (click here to read it), may have been the first to unabashedly defy that trend.

Yesterday, however, came a series of pieces from the national and state level that seem to indicate that the tide is turning:

From The New Republic:

(Judd’s) a sharp-tongued celebrity but also a just-folks Southerner, apparently contradictory roles that instead are complementary: Her activism would be unbearably self-righteous if it wasn’t leavened with such down-home sincerity…

For now, Republicans are content to portray Judd as a stereotypical “Hollywood liberal” … But on her best days, Judd does not settle for being a stock character. One can imagine her embracing her radicalism as just one piece of a more complicated whole: a true Kentuckian and feminist movie star whose liberalism is as fierce as her manners are charming. To make voters believe it, though, she’ll need to deliver the performance of a lifetime.

And here’s Phillip Bailey of WFPL in Louisville:

Democratic officials, lawmakers and operatives have voiced opposition to Judd, suggesting the Hollywood star is too liberal and would hurt down-ticket candidates. Judd has been described as a “catastrophe” for not only state House candidates but gubernatorial ones in 2015.

But Judd supporters are pushing back.

Former state treasurer Jonathan Miller tells WFPL that Judd could actually defeat McConnell next year, and that her critics represent the Democratic establishment who are trying to repel a threat to their pocketbooks.

“Ashley Judd would be what we call a change agent, she would be someone very new on the scene. And folks in the status quo who are everyday active in politics sometimes fear change, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here,” he says.

Backed by a liberal base, Judd appears undaunted by Democratic critics who represent the parties more rural, conservative wing. She visited Louisville this past weekend meeting with Congressman John Yarmuth, Democratic donors and opponents of mountaintop removal mining…

Those behind Judd argue no one should discount the appeal of a candidate with national stature, the race is still  almost two years and Judd has plenty of time to turn perceptions around.

“Folks should take a deep breath and give her a chance to prove herself,” says Miller. “I really do think most Democrats, a lot of independents and maybe even some Republicans will find her to be a terrific candidate.”

And then, Joe Arnold with Louisville’s WHAS-TV:

“Make no mistake, Mitch McConnell is the most effective politician in my lifetime in this state,” said Jonathan Miller, also the former Kentucky Treasurer. “It will be very tough for anybody to beat him, but I do think she can give him a run for his money.”

Miller penned a column for Newsweek/The Daily Beast making the case for a Judd Senate candidacy amid hand-wringing by some Bluegrass Democrats that Judd is too liberal for the conservative state, and may compromise down-ticket races for Democrats.

“Ashley Judd would represent a true change agent and change makes people who are in the establishment, nervous,” Miller said…

“I am very confident that — this is a very charismatic woman — that once she does make this decision, if she makes the decision to run, and touches all these bases that the feathers will become unruffled and people will become comfortable with her,” Miller said…

“You believe either the hype or the caricatures,” Miller continued. “And if you believe the caricatures then that’s the kind of commentary we’re getting. But I think once they meet Ashley — if she does make this run — they’re going to learn this is a really bright person who really cares deeply about Kentucky, has deep roots, eight, nine generations in eastern Kentucky, and could be a real formidable challenger.”

Judd’s liberal views, allegiance to President Barack Obama and Tennessee residency are ridiculed in a video released by American Crossroads, a conservative Super PAC led by conservative lightning rod Karl Rove and a former McConnell aide.

Miller, a prolific poker player, said the web video attacking Judd indicates the Republican mindset about a potential match-up.

“One of the rules about the table is someone who’s acting really confident probably has a really weak hand,” Miller said. “I think the GOP establishment is really nervous because they know of her ability to raise a lot of money and to get a lot of time to get her message across.”

The news media, Miller predicted, would give unprecedented coverage to a Judd Senate campaign compared to candidates in other statewide races.

“Sometimes we have to beg you all to interview us when we are running for office,” Miller, a one-time gubernatorial candidates, said.

“You’re going to be begging her to be on your cameras,” he continued. “And so it’s going to give her incredible opportunities to reach people whose hands she can’t shake… through the media.”

The attacks on Judd can also be neutralized, Miller predicted, because of Judd’s allegiance to what he referred to as “Kentucky’s state religion,” University of Kentucky basketball.

“The fact that Ashley Judd is the number one fan really does make a difference in most of our state,” Miller said.

Judd attends many Wildcat games, has been called upon to help lead cheers at Rupp Arena games and frequently writes about the team on her Twitter account.

“She is someone who is so closely identified with something that unites all of us,” Miller said, “whether we’re Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, conservative and so wherever she goes, any part of the state, except maybe in some quarters of Louisville, she has that in common with the voters.”

“That’s a great way to start a conversation about what really matters.”

Miller, a Lexington attorney, is a co-founder of the No-Labels political reform group and hosts the political commentary website,

“I’d love people who are skeptical, take a deep breath. If she does decide to make a run, listen to what she says and I think there will be a lot of Democrats and even some independents and Republicans out there who will like what she has to say,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Team Mitch strikes back:


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