ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Shushannah Walshe report:
After months of flirtation, actress Ashley Judd announced on Wednesday that she will not pursue a Senate bid against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
She made the announcement in a series of tweets late Wednesday afternoon:
“After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family. Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate. I have spoken to so many Kentuckians over these last few months who expressed their desire for a fighter for the people & new leader. While that won’t be me at this time, I will continue to work as hard as I can to ensure the needs of Kentucky families are met by returning this Senate seat to whom it rightfully belongs: the people & their needs, dreams, and great potential. Thanks for even considering me as that person & know how much I love our Commonwealth. Thank you!”
A source familiar with Judd’s decision-making process said the news that Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes has also been considering a Senate run “gave her the space to really make a decision and decide what was best for her.”
The source said Judd has known she was not running for “the past few days” but only decided to make her decision public on Wednesday.
As late as last Friday, Judd was still hinting at a run, referring to her potential run against McConnell and foreshadowing what she presumed would be a barrage of attack ads from his campaign. She told a conference audience in Cincinnati that she used to be averse to hearing criticism, which she said was ironic because she was “about to get $40 million worth of it.”
In the same speech, she also joked that her mother, country star Naomi Judd, couldn’t wait to turn her garage into campaign headquarters.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who was one of Judd’s most vocal boosters, issued a statement on Wednesday through his spokesman.
“Congressman Yarmuth has said all along he would be surprised if Ashley Judd did not make this race, and he’s certainly surprised. While he is disappointed because he believed Judd would be a strong candidate, he’s confident that a candidate just as strong will emerge to take on Sen. McConnell, who is the least popular senator in the country,” Yarmuth spokesman Stephen George said in a statement to ABC News.
George added that Judd and Yarmuth spoke earlier this week, a conversation in which she did “express some reservations about the race,” but he added they had been speaking throughout the process and that was not unusual.”
Judd’s interest in the race spurred widespread national attention, including from former President Bill Clinton, who spoke to both Judd and Grimes about the seat, encouraging them both to take a hard look at the race.
ABC News reported last week that Clinton encouraged Judd to enter the race and promised he would help her, according to several Kentucky political sources. That conversation happened sometime between the November election and President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Earlier this month Clinton also met with Grimes after he spoke at an event for former Kentucky Sen. Wendell Ford in Owensboro, Ky., according to multiple political sources in the state. Clinton encouraged Grimes to consider taking on McConnell, adding as he did with Judd that he would support her.
Even with the Hollywood actress’s star power, a campaign against McConnell, a political institution in Kentucky, would have been an uphill battle. Shortly after Judd’s announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington circulated a list of 10 Kentucky Democrats who have all passed on a chance to take on McConnell, including the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Beshear.
“The hollow DSCC spin that Kentucky will be competitive still hasn’t made its way to the Bluegrass State,” NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring said in a statement. Citing the list of 10 Democratic names, Dayspring added, “Perhaps number eleven might be a lucky charm?”