Kentuckians have 590 days-plus before the 2014 general election, but already the political chatter is centered on potential challengers to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell—chiefly actress Ashley Judd and her potential candidacy’s supposed strengths and weaknesses.
But Judd isn’t the only possible candidate.
Many veteran Kentucky political operatives—not to mention rural Democrats—are pushing a prospective Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes candidacy over Judd’s. And some Tea Party groups are pushing Louisville businessman Matthew Bevin as a possible challenger to McConnell in the Republican primary.
With so many stories, quotes and talk flying around on these three candidates, here’s a look at the positives and negatives that each could bring to the table in 2014. The list is by no means exhaustive, but’s a reflection of what’s being said publicly and privately in Kentucky and national political circles.
- Near universal name recognition. Supporters point out that Judd’s work as an actress, plus as a prominent University of Kentucky basketball fan, gives her the best name ID of any candidate rumored in the race. And they point out that good name ID leaves more money to use on things other than introductory ads.
- Assumed fundraising abilities/could self-finance. Judd’s connections to the Obama financing network as a supporter, plus Hollywood and San Francisco connections are seen as a major plus. McConnell will have plenty of money for ads and the thought process is Judd could match dollar for dollar.
- Support from Yarmuth, money people in Louisville. If Judd is to win, she will need to run high margins in Louisville, a Democratic city that McConnell also calls home. Having the support of shot callers and the only Democratic Congressman in the state is a plus.
- No official voting record. At the end of the day, Judd has never held elected office. So no votes on legislation or budgets for opposition researchers to dig up.
- Activist/Women’s right advocate. Her ability to fire up a crowd on issues has been tested before and she’s well aware of issues like hunger, poverty and women’s rights. Gives her a base from which to start her platform.
- Anti-MTR. Judd is not a fan of mountaintop removal mining, comparing it to rape. That doesn’t go over well in Kentucky, where coal is still king.
- Big Obama supporter/liberal views. President Obama is pretty toxic in Kentucky and Judd embraced him pretty hard in 2008 and 2012. Plus, her ties to the West Coast and previous statements will be used against her.
- Not currently a resident. Carpetbagging is considered a sin in Kentucky politics and Judd currently lives in Tennessee and Scotland. But Judd was born and raised here and has a degree from the University of Kentucky to prove her worth. Plus, she’s likely to move if she runs.
- Fractured support among state Democrats. Defeating McConnell will require a unified base. If she can’t corral Grimes’ supporters quickly, it will be a problem.
- Never ran a race before/can she debate? Say what you want about McConnell, but the man is a ruthless campaigner and political operative. Can someone who never ran for anything before make the big leap to defeat McConnell? It’s a big question.
- How long will she be a senator? Judd is young, but does she want to be a U.S senator for a while? No one knows and in a mostly rural, poor state like Kentucky, consistency is needed to help the state out.
Alison Lundergan Grimes:
- Has won a statewide office before. Grimes won her Secretary of State office in 2011, defeating an appointed incumbent in the primary. And she won the general election with 60 percent of the vote.
- Heavy support by the Clintons. The last two Democrats who were supported in presidential races in Kentucky share the last name: Clinton. Both President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely fundraise and make multiple appearances for Grimes.
- Father is a former party chair. Organization is key and Grimes could have it from the first day of her campaign. Her father, Jerry, has connections across Kentucky and Washington, D.C. Campaign boots would be on the ground from day one.
- Trust and support of Democratic lawmakers. Many state Democrats, including Auditor Adam Edelen and the majority of state senators have advocated for Grimes. Having familiar faces on the campaign trail everywhere you go won’t hurt.
- No “record” to bash. As Secretary, Grimes doesn’t vote on bills or take a stance of many controversial issues. And having one year in office doesn’t lead to much. Only point of issue would be here military electronic voting bill, which is stalling.
- Pro-Coal. No concerns about coal barons dropping loads of cash on ads against her, but they still might not give her money over McConnell.
- Young candidate. She’s energetic, and she could serve for a long time.
- Fundraising abilities untested. According to finance records, Grimes raised only $600,000 in her 2011 race. Whether she took her foot off the fundraising gas, money ran out to go to other needs or something else, she’ll need 10 times that amount at least to contend with McConnell.
- Colonel scandal. If there is one bad mark on Grimes’ short tenure, its the story of her granting Kentucky Colonel status on many campaign supporters. The designation is suppose to go to those who do something above and beyond for the commonwealth, but in reality its been regulated to a nice pat on the back.
- Won in a low turnout year (29 percent). Grimes’ victories came when no one was paying much attention, so to speak. State elections are usually high turnout, high publicity affairs. But 2011 wasn’t. Her ad with her two grandmothers did give her a lot of press and helped raise name ID a little.
- Largely unknown. A recent Public Policy Polling survey says 56 percent of voters have no opinion of Grimes. That’s largely the answer given when voters don’t know anything about you.
- Only 9 percent of primary voters said they would like to see her nominated. In that same poll, Democratic primary voters put Grimes fifth to Jerry Abramson, Judd, Jack Conway and “other” in their preferences of who should run.
- 2008 DNC rules delegate (Clinton) and 2012 regular delegate (Obama). Having attended two Democratic conventions, Grimes could easily be tied to the national party’s stances. Many of those stances don’t line up with Kentucky voters’ views.
- Lost special nomination for state House in 2008. Grimes first taste of politics was defeat. Running in a special nomination process for an open state House seat, party activists and insiders rejected the “pro-coal” candidate for the seat that has always firmly been in Democratic hands in her hometown of Lexington.
- Critics of her campaign delivery style since 2011. Fair or not, Grimes has an explosive delivery style in her campaigning. Some see it as a good thing, but others have been critical saying her yelling style is a turnoff for voters. Easy to fix, but still a criticism.
- Rivalry with Gov. Steve Beshear. The feud between Grimes’ father, Jerry Lundergan and Beshear has been long and nasty. And while Beshear is a lame duck governor, he’s still widely popular among the public. Having him hold back a candidacy could be a death wish.
Matthew Bevin, Republican
- Successful businessman. Bevin could argue, as many others have, that his private sector experience would outweigh McConnell’s lifetime of public sector experience. That’s the type of raw meat many Tea Party and conservative types like to feast one.
- Could self-finance/raise money. McConnell will corner the market on traditional GOP donors, so any opportunity to self-finance in a primary or recruit new people to give is a plus.
- Kentucky native. Familiar with the state and he can’t be called an out of town carpetbagger.
- No record/past statements to use. Bevin has no legislative voting record, and no incriminating statements have surfaced. And word is he’s telling potential supporters there’s no Todd Akin or Richard Murdouck-like statements to be used against him.
- Business in New England, not Kentucky jobs. Bevin’s business, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, is based in Connecticut, not Kentucky. In a state where unemployment has been higher than the national average, voters will wonder what Bevin’s business background has done for them lately.
- MIT “scandal.” This week, D.C. publication the Hill wrote about a muddled educational history for Bevin, who listed an MIT seminar for his education on his LinkedIn page. MIT denied any involvement and Bevin had to backtrack. Whether it’s enough to turn into a full blown scandal is yet to be seen.
- Used federal dollars to rebuild factory. Conservatives abhor the use of federal money, mainly because of the amount of federal debt there is. The fact that Bevin used federal grants to rebuild a factory that was affected by fire isn’t a great thing.
- Unknown/no name ID. Who is Matthew Bevin? He’s not a name known around Louisville as a prominent businessman, but sometimes those guys stay behind closed doors for a while. He’ll have to do a lot of outreach to get his name known.
- Hasn’t corralled full tea party support yet. Bevin is heavily supported by the Louisville Tea Party, but other Tea Party groups say they don’t know anything about him. Many of these groups want to solidify behind one challenger to McConnell, but if he can’t get them to support him that will be an issue.
- Not sure if serious. Bevin has been taking things slow and hasn’t committed to run yet. The longer he waits, the tougher things will get. It’s making many wonder if he’ll really run.