Parallel to the divide between Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the Tea Party, Kentucky Democrats are vocally split over actress Ashley Judd running the GOP leader.
Democratic officials, lawmakers and operatives have voiced opposition to Judd, suggesting the Hollywood star is too liberal and would hurt down-ticket candidates. Judd has been described as a “catastrophe” for not only state House candidates but gubernatorial ones in 2015.
But Judd supporters are pushing back.
Former state treasurer Jonathan Miller tells WFPL that Judd could actually defeat McConnell next year, and that her critics represent the Democratic establishment who are trying to repel a threat to their pocketbooks.
“Ashley Judd would be what we call a change agent, she would be someone very new on the scene. And folks in the status quo who are everyday active in politics sometimes fear change, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here,” he says.
Backed by a liberal base, Judd appears undaunted by Democratic critics who represent the parties more rural, conservative wing. She visited Louisville this past weekend meeting with Congressman John Yarmuth, Democratic donors and opponents of mountaintop removal mining.
Most polls show Judd trailing McConnell by as little as 4 percent, and she is the favorite among primary voters. Observers are also beginning to trumpet the virtues of a Judd candidacy.
From The New Republic:
(Judd’s) a sharp-tongued celebrity but also a just-folks Southerner, apparently contradictory roles that instead are complementary: Her activism would be unbearably self-righteous if it wasn’t leavened with such down-home sincerity.
For now, Republicans are content to portray Judd as a stereotypical “Hollywood liberal” … But on her best days, Judd does not settle for being a stock character. One can imagine her embracing her radicalism as just one piece of a more complicated whole: a true Kentuckian and feminist movie star whose liberalism is as fierce as her manners are charming. To make voters believe it, though, she’ll need to deliver the performance of a lifetime.
The most recent survey conducted by Harper Polling, however, puts Judd behind the GOP leader by as much as 9 points and with negative ratings as high as 45 percent.
Republican strategist Scott Jennings is a co-founder of Harper Polling. After working for Mitt Romney’s presidential bid in Ohio, he says the Democrats are right to be worried that Judd is being painted as too liberal to win in Kentucky.
“Ashley Judd hasn’t done any paid media yet to define herself the way she would want to be known and so what she is defined by is what is being written about,” says Scott. “If you know anything about Ashley Judd—if you follow the news over the last few weeks—it’s that she’s an actress, she loves Kentucky basketball and that she loves Barack Obama.”
Those behind Judd argue no one should discount the appeal of a candidate with national stature, the race is still almost two years and Judd has plenty of time to turn perceptions around.
“Folks should take a deep breath and give her a chance to prove herself,” says Miller. “I really do think most Democrats, a lot of independents and maybe even some Republicans will find her to be a terrific candidate.”