This week’s announcement that Ashley Judd and husband Dario Franchitti called it quits after 11 years of marriage had one surprising effect: Proof, claimed some pundits, that the 44-year-old actress is preparing a 2014 race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The politically-active Judd, who grew up in Kentucky, is being courted by some Democrats in the state; so far, she’s only said that she’s “honored” by the speculation and is still deciding. McConnell isn’t weighing in: “Who I actually end up running against either in the primary or the general will be determined in 2014 and we’ll take a look at it then,” he told Yahoo News Friday.
Oh, what the heck. Let’s handicap a Judd campaign anyway:
• McConnell isn’t beloved in his home state, but the savvy fifth-term senator has a huge war chest and an established political team on the ground. Judd has never run for elected office.
• She’s got great name recognition and famous relatives. Pros: Campaign rallies with Wynonna Judd. Cons: Most of her movie roles.
• Judd hasn’t lived in Kentucky since college; she now calls Tennessee home. (She was a delegate from that state at the 2012 DNC convention.) Aside from reestablishing residency, she’ll face charges of being a carpetbagger. (Not a problem for Hillary Clinton in New York, but a huge factor in Bob Kerrey’s losing bid in Nebraska.)
• She’s a progressive liberal. Kentucky is historically a conservative state. Currently, both senators and five of the six representatives are Republicans.
• She is a woman. “Kentucky does not have a great history of electing women,” said Debbie Walsh, director of Rutger’s Center for American Women and Politics. The state ranks 37th in the nation for women in the state legislature, she said, and currently has no women in Congress.
• She’s an actress best known for her pretty face and hot body. Actors (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sono Bono, Al Franken) successfully transitioned from showbiz to politics. Actresses (Roseanne Barr and . . .) not so much.
Judd “is known as a movie star and people have that image of her,” said Walsh. “Hollywood, especially for women, is more sexualized. She won’t be taken seriously with that image in Kentucky — or Washington.”
Advice? To have a chance of winning, Judd will have to spend considerable time and money redefining her image — and recalibrating her understanding of fame, said Walsh: “It’s one thing to have fans, another to have constituents.”
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