Terrific piece about politics and celebrity by POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush — and not just because he calls me “affable.”
I must also clarify: While, contrary to much of the political establishment, I believed that Ashley Judd would have been the stronger candidate against Mitch McConnell, I do believe that Alison Lundergan Grimes can beat him, and I hope that she ultimately decides to run:
Jonathan Miller, an affable Harvard law graduate, former Kentucky state treasurer and onetime Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is one of Ashley Judd’s biggest fans. But he has a little trouble recalling any of her movies.
“Kiss the Girls”? Not so much. “Norma Jean and Marilyn”? No. “A Dolphin’s Tale”? Doesn’t ring a bell.
“‘Sisters’!” he says, conjuring Judd’s NBC series, “I remember that from the ’90s. … That was good.”
It wasn’t star worship that impelled Miller to become a driving force behind the unsuccessful push to draft the Kentucky-bred actress and liberal activist to challenge the powerful incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, for reelection in 2014. It was about money and power. In that respect, Louisville isn’t much different from Hollywood or Washington.
Democrats and Republicans dismissed the candidacy as a distraction and a joke, but Judd’s celebrity, Miller knew, translated to instant cash and cachet. Kentucky Democrats, he reckoned, could save millions they would otherwise have to spend on get-to-know-you advertising to increase their candidate’s name recognition by having someone famous, like Judd, on the ticket. The local and national media would be all over the race, drawn to the irresistible storyline of the lissome, earnest liberal facing down a five-term Machiavelli in wire rims demonized by Democrats as an arch-obstructionist.
“Celebrity was a large part of why I thought Ashley would have been great,” said Miller, who thought the choice of local Democrats, Kentucky’s low-key, 34-year-old Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, would almost certainly fall to McConnell.
“It’s a constant struggle for an ambitious candidate to make news or raise money. Name recognition would have been the most obvious advantage for Ashley, but the more important benefit is the free media attention,” he added. “Sure, they’d go after her as a member of the Hollywood elite. But the esteem for politicians around here is so low, people are less likely to hold that kind of thing against her. I mean no one could accuse her of being a regular politician. …
“She was a celebrity, but she was also an outsider. Nowadays, being an insider is worse.”
Judd’s flirtation reflects Hollywood’s through-the-looking-glass relationship with politics — no longer merely fodder for story lines but a forum for their own aspirations. A new generation of celebrities is more attracted to policy than publicity — a younger, unapologetically liberal group of activist-stars inspired by the examples of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign.