The potential Ashley Judd Kentucky Senate race is getting enormously disproportionate amounts of media attention, for some of the same reasons Gawker has created a sequestration explainer using Kate Upton and Ryan Gosling. But the Judd-for-Senate boomlet seems to have created this weird little cycle of people convincing each other and themselves that Judd actually has a chance to win a Senate race in Kentucky, or at least, is not completely and utterly doomed to lose. Stories suggesting as much have appeared in the New York Times, the New Republic, and Salon.
And while a Mitch McConnell concession speech after losing to Ashley Judd is possibly the most gratifying political event I could possibly imagine, it is also impossible.
It’s kind of baffling that anybody is unsure about this. Kentucky is a really conservative state. It’s incredibly hard for Democrats to win statewide races in states as conservative as Kentucky. A way to do it is to build up an image as far more conservative than the national party, like Joe Manchin did in West Virginia.
But Ashley Judd isn’t way more conservative than the national Democrat party. She’s way less conservative. And yes, she’s from the state. But pretty much everybody who runs for office in a state is from that state. It’s not a huge advantage. The fact that she lives in Tennessee doesn’t help.
In 2004, longtime broadcaster Nick Clooney ran for Congress in the 4th district of Kentucky. His Republican opponent ran on the theme “Hollywood versus the Heartland” campaign, which successfully smeared Clooney, who had spent his whole adult life in the state, as a Hollywood liberal because his son is a famous actor. (George Clooney stayed away from the race except to write a letter pleading for voters to judge his father as his own man. It failed.) Running an actual famous actor rather than the parent of one does not seem like a more promising approach.
It is true that some Democrats in Kentucky have talked up a Judd candidacy. I think the answer here is to listen very carefully to what these Democrats are saying. One Democrat, speaking to the Times, “dismissed concerns that Ms. Judd would be a liability. On the contrary, he said, she would neutralize Mr. McConnell’s fund-raising advantage and energize opposition.”
Let me translate this. Democrats are going to lose the Senate race pretty much regardless. But Ashley Judd would raise a ton of money across the country and spend it bolstering turnout across the state, which would help other Democrats, most of whom would be distancing themselves from Judd like she was George Clooney. You know Ashley Judd’s evil husband in Double Jeopardy, who seduced her and then exploited her for an insurance scam? The campaign to lure her to run is kind of like that.