Political outlets have recently been buzzing with speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in his bid for re-election. If the reports are true then this will place the Hollywood actress directly in the crosshairs of a Republican machine dedicated to recapturing the Senate and protecting one of the their most influential leaders. This is guaranteed to be one of the most watched campaigns in the 2014 election cycle. If she succeeds, Judd’s candidacy could create an opening for the Kentucky Democratic party. This is a state that has historically been very competitive for Democrats. The last time Kentucky went blue in a Presidential race was in 1996 and Kentucky has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1999. And while a moderate Democrat may currently hold the governorship…the idea of a liberal Hollywood actress throwing her hat in the race has already caused many in the party to doubt her potential candidacy. But some have hope for the Hollywood starlet pointing to the fact that other entertainers like Al Franken were able to win hotly contested races using their stardom and connection to the media as an advantage.
Judd has serious flaws that will put her at odds with the Kentucky electorate. She is vociferously pro-choice, sympathetic to gay rights issues, and has been outspoken on issues of social inequality. Judd’s largest hurdle that she will have to overcome is her comments and connections to environmental groups that are anti-coal. The coal industry provides thousands of jobs for the state and as a result remains a powerful lobby in Kentucky politics. Judd has related the environmentally disastrous process of mountain-top removal to rape and some believe that her candidacy would be doomed from the outset. The state voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in the latest Presidential election, which signals to most political insiders that Kentucky is not yet ready for Judd’s political beliefs.
But Judd has something that many of her Democratic predecessors did not have. She has name-recognition, which would allow her to generate a plethora of positive free media. It is already rumored that Obama campaign staffers are rushing to Judd’s aid to help the campaign craft a modern campaign platform centered around social media. And while her political positions may not be very popular, she is well-liked in the state for her career as an award-winning actress. Judd can bring in a fierce ground-game centered around a very tech-savvy and new media approach. This could revitalize the Democratic base and overwhelm the traditional campaign methods of her opponents. Even if Judd does not deliver in 2014, her candidacy could pave the way for other future Democratic candidates to utilize the new media political infrastructure she will inevitably set up. Judd’s stardom has the potential to give her access to cultural and media markets that her challenger would not be able to match. Judd has liabilities, but she does have the potential to give the Senate minority leader a run for his money and change the trajectory of Kentucky Democratic politics.