Ashley Judd may not be running for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, but another possible candidate is thinking about taking on Mitch McConnell and she has some local star power of her own: Former Miss America Heather French Henry.
French Henry, who was crowned Miss America in 2000 and is married to former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, told ABC News she is being “urged by a number of individuals in political leadership to contemplate the possibility of running for Senate” as a Democrat.
“I feel I owe them the time and consideration to listen to their position,” Henry said in an e-mail. ”Is there a political race in my future? Possibly. Is it this Senate race? I am not sure … Over the past year it has become apparent to me that I may enter politics. I have become increasingly concerned about the direction and future of our country. Therefore, I have agreed to meet and discuss all options including a race for U.S. Senate.”
French Henry said her time contemplating a bid “will not be a prolonged process” and she “will make an announcement in the near future.”
French Henry says she is also weighing her responsibilities as a mother of two young children, her work as a dress designer and boutique owner, as well as a philanthropy she runs helping homeless veterans. The last is an issue she is closely involved with and would most likely be part of her platform if she does get into the race.
French Henry did not expand on who exactly she was talking to in Kentucky Democratic politics, but Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky), who was Judd’s biggest backer when she was thinking about getting into the race, told ABC News that French Henry would be “an outstanding Senate candidate.”
“She is a real source of pride for the Commonwealth, and her dedication to helping Kentucky families and veterans would provide real contrast to Mitch McConnell in 2014,” Yarmuth said in a statement.
Former Kentucky state treasurer and Democratic analyst Jonathan Miller said he thinks “if she decides to run and surrounds herself with a strong national team, I think she could make a decent run at it,” but he noted he “doesn’t know what her name recognition is now.”
“I know 10 years ago, when she was Miss America and married to the lieutenant governor, it was high,” Miller said, adding, “Anyone running against McConnell will have national support because they are running against McConnell.”
No Democrat has yet stepped forward to challenge McConnell, despite local polling that shows the Senate minority leader with lower than 50 percent in some surveys. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is also considering a run for the Senate, and allies of hers say she is still actively making the decision.
McConnell has a war chest of almost $9 million and has already been running ads in the state. Those factors, coupled with the widely held belief in Kentucky and beyond that the race will be very nasty, seems to have stopped candidates from throwing their hats into the ring.
French Henry’s husband, Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor in 2007. Some of the controversies that he faced while in office and during his gubernatorial bid are sure to come up if she were to enter the race.
In 2009, Henry accepted a plea deal for misdemeanors related to misusing campaign funds during the 2007 gubernatorial bid. He was sentenced to over $500 in fines and 12 months in jail, but the jail time was suspended on the condition that he avoid further criminal problems for two years, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The newspaper also reports that in 2003 when he was lieutenant governor, Henry paid $162,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that alleged he defrauded both Medicare and Medicaid programs as an orthopedic surgeon.
And it doesn’t end there. After the Henrys were married in 2000, the state auditor found that 25 state employees used 500 hours of their own personal leave, valued at $16,000, to work on the wedding. The Henrys ended up reimbursing the state for over $3,000 in wedding expenses and more than $4,000 in trips that Henry took to the Miss America pageant and the Democratic National Convention.
Miller said he doesn’t think the “significant problems her husband has had will affect her.”
“In the same way I don’t think Bill Clinton’s issues were attributed to Hillary,” Miller said. “They are very different, but I don’t think people will blame the wife for the husband’s failings.”
In 2003, French Henry struck and killed a bicyclist and mother of four as the woman was biking across the street. She told her story on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show detailing how distraught she was and the emotional toll it had taken on her and her family. There were no charges ever filed.