Democrats Keep Options Open as Ashley Judd Considers Senate Bid

Top national Democrats say it doesn't matter if Judd runs for Senate in Ky.

March 11, 2013, 6:31 PM

March 11, 2013 -- Top national Democrats say it doesn't matter if Ashley Judd runs for Senate in Kentucky. Even without her Hollywood star and fundraising capability, they say taking out the Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is their "top priority."

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil said Monday that Judd is one of "a handful of quality candidates in Kentucky" and "there's actually a deep bench."

Cecil wouldn't discuss the committee's recruitment strategy on a conference call with reporters, but he did mention Judd as well as Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes as possible candidates.

"Quality candidates would include folks like the secretary of state and folks like Ashley Judd," Cecil said, calling McConnell "one of the most unpopular senators in the country."

"We're going to be focused on making sure that we recruit and that ultimately a candidate runs who can take on Mitch McConnell and ultimately draw a very strong contrast," Cecil said.

Last week, the Louisville Eccentric Observer reported that the DSCC is reevaluating Judd and is now taking a "serious second look at recruiting" Grimes after they conducted a poll that showed Grimes running better than Judd against McConnell.

When asked about the report, Cecil responded that the committee members "don't spend a lot of time talking to weekly newspapers about our recruitment strategy. That is certainly true in this case." He wouldn't go any further on the topic of recruitment for the spot.

"Beyond that, we typically don't talk about our recruitment efforts and we're going to continue to follow that practice," Cecil said.

Grimes did not return calls for comment. Judd's publicist has said she is currently not doing interviews.

As for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, they say their "first priority" is the "protection and retention of Republican Senators," but spokesman Brad Dayspring also pointed out the many issues Republicans will pounce on (or already have pounced on) if Judd does take on the senate minority leader.

"It's unclear whether or not the Democrats will have a candidate at this point," Dayspring said in a statement to ABC News. "It's difficult to envision how a fading Hollywood star, who currently lives in Tennessee, believes that having children is 'unconscionable,' and that coal is 'unacceptable,' would be able to relate to folks in Kentucky, so it's no surprise the DSCC is having second (if not third) thoughts.

"If Ms. Judd chooses to run, as gossip out of Los Angeles suggests, Kentuckians will want to hear a more in-depth explain of these bizarre views ... after she moves to the state, of course," he said.

Where she lives is one issue that's already being used against her in web videos by both McConnell and Karl Rove-backed superPAC, American Crossroads as well as in a fake fundraising email from the NRSC last week.

Judd, the daughter and half-sister of country singers Naomi and Wynonna Judd, currently lives in the country music capital of Nashville, Tenn. (Wynonna Judd will be a contestant on this season of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars"). She must reside in the Bluegrass State if she decides to run, but an informal advisor to Judd said it makes the most sense for her not to live where she grew up, in Ashland in eastern Kentucky, but in Lexington, where she attended the University of Kentucky and often goes for basketball games.

"If she runs, she's going to spend time in Kentucky, and it makes sense from a logistical standpoint (to live in Lexington) because it's in the center of the state," he said, adding that Louisville, where McConnell has a home, may not be a good choice either, because the rest of the state sees it as the "big city."

"Lexington is the second biggest city by far and everybody loves Lexington," he said. "UK is the place everybody loves, where everybody wants their kids to go to school."

As for timing, the informal adviser said only that he "hopes it's soon."

Judd's biggest and most vocal supporter in the state is Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, who told ABC News late last month: "I would be surprised if she doesn't run at this point."

Yarmuth said he still feels that way and in the same interview said, "I think she understands if she is not going to make the race, she needs to make a decision so someone else can make a decision."

Over the weekend the Huffington Post reported that Judd would announce around Derby Day in early May, a time when Kentucky candidates often announce races and national eyes are on the state, but Yarmuth said he hoped it would come "well before Derby Day."

"She wanted to give herself a window large enough to touch all the bases she needs to touch," Yarmuth said.

He also said the actress and Democratic activist is ready and has even done opposition research on herself to see areas McConnell will try to "exploit."

"In her world she is used to dealing with a lot of nonsense, so I think she will deal with it very well," Yarmuth said.

The race will be the most high profile in the nation and the attack ads could get nasty, but Judd will have the ability to raise national money to keep up with her opponent and every dollar spent to divert Judd is heading away from Republican coffers.

McConnell's team, as well as outside Republicans, are sure to not only pounce on the residency issue, but some of the more eyebrow raising comments she's made in the past that Dayspring referred to or even make use of some of the more risqué footage of her from past movies. Her strong support of the president -- she was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Tennessee -- is also sure to become an issue in red Kentucky,

The group Emily's List are encouraging her to run and a staffer there said they have been in touch with her, noting she was part of a panel of theirs at the DNC.

A close friend of Judd's, Silas House, a professor at Berea College in Kentucky, said he didn't know where she was in her decision, but is hoping she does go for it.

"We need something to happen in Kentucky and I think she would be the perfect person for that," House said. "We've gotten to a point in our state where we need to shake up politics and get people talking about it and I think she could do that."

But he said he worriesabout how nasty it will undoubtedly get if she does jump in.

"I know she's a good person and I hate to see her attacked, but I also know she's an incredibly strong person and a really smart person," he said. "Being an actress, she has a thick skin already. She would be able to handle it.

"I know that her primary call in life is to be of service and I think she really feels a deep commitment to serve others," House said.

Judd herself tweeted a quote from Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore late Sunday night that expressed that commitment to service, in a possible nod to the news around her potential candidacy.

@AshleyJudd "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy." -- Rabindranath Tagore

This story has been updated.

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