The Washington Post

Why Democrats are better off without Ashley Judd

After much fanfare and speculation, actress Ashley Judd announced via Twitter on Wednesday that she would not challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky in 2014.

Actress Ashley Judd won't run for the Senate in 2014. Getty Images.

That's great news for Democrats. Here's why.

McConnell and his campaign team have proven lethal at savaging past opponents, making the race entirely about his Democratic challenger and almost nothing about him. Judd was tailor-made for that approach, a Hollywood actress with lots (and lots) of public statements that are totally fine when made by an entertainer but simply don't work in the context of a political campaign.

One example: At a women's health forum at George Washington University earlier this month, Judd said the following: “We winter in Scotland. We’re smart like that.” Using the word “winter” as a verb is almost never a good thing in politics, particularly at a time when many people in Kentucky continue to struggle amid a halting economic recovery.

And, the McConnell team had already telegraphed its plan in the race -- to paint Judd as an out-of-touch Hollywood liberal who had only a passing familiarity with Kentuckians. Here's a video the McConnell campaign released making just that point:

"Ashley faced numerous challenges that were already starting to play out over the airwaves," said Penny Lee, a former executive director at the Democratic Governors Association. "Mitch McConnell is a skilled politician who would have made her first entry into politics extremely difficult."

In the absence of Judd, the most likely Democratic candidate is newly minted Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. No lesser eminence in Democratic politics than former president Bill Clinton has urged Grimes to make the race, according to reporting from Politico's Manu Raju.

While Grimes is something of a known commodity in the Bluegrass State -- she is the daughter of former Democratic state party chairman Jerry Lundergan -- she is nowhere close to being as well defined as Judd. In theory, her relative anonymity would work in Democrats' favor, short-circuiting -- or at least complicating -- McConnell's attempts to make the contest about his opponent rather than himself.

Before Democrats congratulate themselves too much, it's important to remember three things: (1) Grimes isn't in the race yet, (2) Kentucky is a conservative state, especially in the second midterm election of Barack Obama's presidency, and (3) as mentioned above, McConnell is a lethal weapon when it comes to winning races -- and he started 2013 with more than $7 million in his campaign bank account. (That's actually four things, but whatever.)

Judd would have brought many things -- star power, oodles of national money and a HUGE media spotlight -- to the Kentucky Senate race. But, she would have been a first-time candidate with lots of baggage up against one of the best campaign operations in the Senate.

In not running, Judd increased the chances of Democrats' making a serious run at McConnell in 2014.


A majority of Supreme Court justices questioned the constitutionality of DOMA on Wednesday.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says he is crafting a plan to remake the labor movement.

Obama said there is a "strong basis" for gay marriage to be legal.

The president will head to Mexico and Costa Rica in May.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) sparred over Lynch's vote against the health-care reform law in their first Senate debate.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino won't seek a sixth term.

Sarah Palin is gearing up to play a role in the 2014 elections.

Obama has another dinner date with Senate Republicans.

Reporters in Arizona are looking through newly released records related to the 2011 assassination attempt against Gabrielle Giffords.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) announced her support for gay marriage.


"Shifting political winds blow Senate Democrats into same-sex marriage camp" -- David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Kane

"Obama Trusts Immigration Gang to Produce Bill" -- Humberto Sanchez, Roll Call

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Play Video
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.