Thank you, Ashley Judd, for the most exciting Senate campaign that never was. We all knew in our heart of hearts that this was never going to happen — there were just too many residency questions, too many tone-deaf speeches, too many semi-nude scenes. On Wednesday night Judd announced she will not enter the 2014 race. And yet, from the moment in early November that some Great Mentioner first floated the actress’s name as a possible Kentucky candidate, the incredible click-appeal of this story seemed like it could compensate for its utter improbability. Whether it was a vaporous trial balloon like Caroline Kennedy’s New York Senate tease, a performance-art stunt like Donald Trump’s presidential race threats or just another make-believe game like those theories about Alec Baldwin running for Congress someday, the Judd non-campaign provided enough suspenseful ups and downs over four and a half months for a real campaign.
Early November: Her initial non-denial denial (“I cherish Kentucky, heart and soul. . . [but] we have just finished an election, so let’s focus on coming together to keep moving America’s families, and especially our kids, forward”) was a model of political doublespeak, so artful it seemed like she either truly had a knack for this business or already had hired guns writing for her. Points off for issuing the statement to Us Magazine. Come on, Ashley, that’s not how we do it in Washington.
Mid January: Judd mingled at inauguration parties with Washington’s moneyed elite, suggesting she might understand the hard work of raising money. On the flip side, she showed up in a slinky black bandage dress that was more “please cast me in your new HBO pilot” than “please donate to my PAC.”
Late January: A rare talent indeed: Judd may be the only political prospect in history who suddenly looked like a better candidate by announcing a divorce during the run-up to a campaign. With all due respect to Dario Franchitti and their civilized parting, a Scottish racecar driver would have been a hard sell as a Kentucky Senate spouse.
Early February: The saucy way Judd’s reps responded to an American Crossroads attack ad (“thanks . . . for all the attention”) felt like a mark of confidence. But dang, that was a killer clip they had on her, declaring “Tennessee is home” in a speech just months earlier. Could her not-yet-campaign survive?
Late February: Judd spoke with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who dutifully reported the conversation to the rest of the world as a sign of How Serious She Is.
Early March: In what was officially a non-political trip back to Washington, Judd gave a talk at George Washington University about women’s health that was described as unscripted and self-involved by the small crowd of reporters who attended. Not ready for prime time?
Mid March: But when it came time to those artful non-denials, Judd was better than ever. In response to a Huffington Post story that claimed she would definitely run: “I am not sure who is saying this stuff, but it is not I! I’d prefer as a fan of your journalism that you stay accurate and credible.”
March 22: “Olympus Has Fallen,” Judd’s first big movie in a few years, opened, and her particular role — that of a first lady who is removed from the plot just a few minutes in (brazen spoilers here) – felt like a symbolic farewell-to-Hollywood, hello-to-Washington. Or maybe we just read too much into Gerard Butler movies.
March 27: So much for all of that. “After serious and thorough contemplation,” she wrote on Twitter, “I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family.” Hmm, the old spending-more-time-with-the-family. . . She’s really a natural politician, isn’t she?
Updated 5:30 p.m.
Earlier in The Reliable Source: