Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth is defending actress Ashley Judd against fellow Democrats who he says will regret trying to “sabotage” the Hollywood star’s candidacy against Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.
For weeks, state Democratic consultants and donors have voiced caution, arguing Judd is too liberal to win in Kentucky and could cost the party seats in the General Assembly. And national Democratic groups are reportedly having second thoughts about Judd running in 2014 as well.
Yarmuth says those naysayers have often been wrong and haven’t presented a viable candidate of their own to take on the GOP leader, adding many should accept Judd is running.
“I absolutely think that some of the Democrats who are trying to sabotage an Ashley Judd campaign are making a very big mistake. There is no alternative to Ashley Judd right now. She is widely popular in Kentucky. She has generated an unprecedented excitement in the media both locally and across the country,” he says. “And I think a lot of these people are going to be very embarrassed and have to eat a lot of crow when they have to support her—and they will aggressively support her—in the general election.”
That hasn’t stopped strategists from openly saying they would prefer Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes jump into the race. Pro-Grimes arguments are plentiful—she’s a woman, she is connected to former President Bill Clinton and she was the top vote getter in the 2011 statewide elections.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has said McConnell is vulnerable and the Kentucky Senate race is a “top priority” for them. But the group’s leader stopped short of endorsing Judd and instead spoke to the “deep bench” of candidates in the state party, which could be seen as another wink to Grimes.
“As far as Alison Lundergan Grimes is concerned, she has proven her mettle as a statewide campaigner and she would be a formidable opponent to Mitch McConnell,” says Yarmuth. “She has not to my knowledge told anyone that she is even thinking about a Senate race. It’s one thing to discuss some of the possible liabilities of an Ashley Judd candidacy, but to go out of your way to trash somebody who is most likely going to be the standard bearer of the party and you’re going to end up supporting them seems to me to be counterproductive.”
For Judd critics, however, a Grimes candidacy is emerging as the best and only alternative as the media frenzy and national interest in Kentucky gains more momentum.
“I would challenge the assumption that (Alison) has shown no interest in a prospective U.S. Senate campaign. I know literally hundreds of rank-and-file Democrats across the state have called, e-mail and told Alison to make the race,” says Democratic consultant Dale Emmons. “I know she has talked to those people, and has listened to them. Has she overtly done what the Hollywood candidacy has done? No she hasn’t.”
The Democrats concerned about Judd cite a number of factors, chief among them being an argument that having someone with such avowed liberal stances could endanger down-ticket candidates in the state House races.
And while some consultants have offered Judd free advice to ignore that premise, for some the debate is important enough to where a primary contest isn’t out of the question.
“I do not think the only option Kentucky Democrats have is Ashley Judd. I just don’t accept that premise,” says Emmons. “I don’t foresee one, and who knows what the future will hold? I will say I’m certainly not afraid of a primary nor should any Democrat. Primaries while they can be divisive, they can also be constructive.”