Kentucky state Senate Democrats are largely lukewarm about the potential for actress and activist Ashley Judd entering the 2014 race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
Judd's recent activity indicates a real possibility that she'll enter the 2014 race. She's met with Democratic senators, may soon speak with Gov. Steve Beshear and recently addressed on Twitter the controversial statements made by a liberal Super Pac regarding McConnell's wife.
Most state senators represent multiple counties and act as de facto party chairs for their districts—so their opinion will matter. With this in mind, we asked those 14 Democratic state senators whether they thought Judd was a viable U.S. Senate candidate.
Taken as a whole, Democratic state senators were unenthusiastic about the idea of a Judd candidacy.
But not all. Walter Blevins (Morehead), Kathy Stein (Lexington) and Gerald Neal (Louisville) expressed direct support for a Judd candidacy.
Three declined to answer: Louisville's Perry Clark and Denise Harper-Angel, and Frankfort's Julian Carroll, a former governor.
The rest were lukewarm—and many expressed enthusiasm for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state and another rumored candidate.
Regardless, a single thought emerged from each response: Democrats must unify behind one candidate, if they want to replace McConnell.
Here's what the Kentucky Senate Democrats are saying:
Minority Caucus Chair Johnny Ray Turner, Prestonburg: "Better Candidates"
On Judd: "I think that there’s probably better candidates out there to run against Senator McConnell. It’s a little bit early but I'd like to see some other names thrown around before I could make a decision as to who I'd like to see."
On Grimes: "She (Grimes) would be an excellent candidate if she would choose to do that."
State Senator Walter Blevins, Morehead: Judd Works, but Grimes Works Better
On Judd: "I think anybody with her name recognition would be a good candidate. I mean, she’s got some issues that would hurt her up in Eastern Kentucky. Of course, that’s where her ancestors are from. And her grandmother didn’t help her any but I know Polly (Judd's grandmother) because that’s part of my district up there. And Polly, she's just a lady that speaks how she feels and she's very conservative compared to Ashley. But Ashley's just a lovely person and obviously very talented. I think she’d be a good candidate. I think she could raise the money. I think she needs to get home soon if she’s going to do anything."
On other potential contenders: "I think we also have some other good candidates as well. My pick would be Alison Grimes. I think Alison is as smart of an attorney as I've ever run into. She’s attractive and brilliant. I think her future is brighter than anybody’s in this state Capitol to tell the truth. But I really think we have a real opportunity as Democrats that we can get a candidate to run. I hope whoever decides to run, they sit down with each other and – not have a primary – but look at each other's records. Look at what they can bring to the table. And let's not have a primary to just split that money. I think if we have a united front the democrats can win the Senate seat back.
State Sen. Gerald Neal, Louisville: Celebrity May Outweight Cultural Issues
On Judd: :"I think, clearly, she’s viable. At least, it appears that she can garner national support and garner financial support. She's got name recognition. How her issues that she has championed square with the Kentucky voters in various parts of Kentucky, I can't answer that question. Maybe her celebrity outweighs some of the cultural issues involved there, but I don’t think you can say she’s not viable. Of course, she is."
On other contenders: "The governor. You know, he’s not gonna do it. But I think he's proven his mettle, and I think he’s a shoe-in in a race like that. He's admired and respected across the commonwealth. I wish that was the word of the day but I don’t expect that to happen."
State Sen. Kathy Stein, Lexington: Excited by Possible Judd Candidacy
On Judd: "There are only three of us, of course: women in the senate. And I think she’s a viable candidate. There’s a position that’s shes taken on coal mining that’s not popular with Senator Webb. However, I have filed the Stream Saver Bill so I was very pleased that she spoke out against mountaintop removal as a way of gathering coal. Now I am very excited at the prospect that she might run, and I'm glad that she's taking her time and doing her homework, apparently, prior to making that decision. So I look forward to following the story and seeing what eventually happens. I'm a great admirer of her as an artist, and I like her political philosophy."
State Sen. Robin Webb, Grayson: 'Better Candidates' Than Judd
On Judd: "I don’t know Ashley Judd personally. And I don’t know that her background would lend itself to running a political campaign and or serving in Washington necessarily. Or to run against one of the most powerful senators in Washington that has a substantial war chest amassed.
I think that the Kentucky (Democratic) Party has some better candidates with some experience under their belt. It would be a very tough campaign cycle in a very short time to raise money, not withstanding her celebrity status and connections. Her grandmother is a friend of mine and has been a public servant herself, but I don’t know the rest of the family. I was at The Bluegrass Ball in Washington D.C. and she was there. I've known Sen. McConnell all my life and have a lot of respect for him, and his stature and position. And I know that it would just be a very hard battle for her in her maiden race."
On other potential contenders: "I guess we have some individuals like Alison Lundergan Grimes if they'd like to see a strong woman candidate. She would certainly come to mind. Attorney Jennifer Moore, if she would choose to get in the race, as far as women candidates go. Certainly, we have some very able others: Attorney General Jack Conway, Adam Edelen, any of our constitutional officers per se. Lt. Gov. Abramson would be another. But again, it's going to be a challenge, and time is drawing nigh. If you're going to run to unseat an incumbent, I would think that one would have been working already as far as announcing, and more than feeling the waters — or just putting a finger in the water actually — but I think it would be very challenging."
State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, Louisville: 'Interesting' to See Who Runs
On Judd: "I think we've got to find someone to run against Sen. McConnell, who can do a good job representing the people of Kentucky. It will be interesting to see who gets in the race. But I think we need someone strong who can raise enough money to compete with him. To be honest I have not followed that race closely. I think we need someone who's got Kentucky roots and can run a strong candidacy.
On other potential contenders: "I think (Grimes) would be a strong candidate for Democrats. She’s young, she’s smart, she’s energetic. I think she presents a visual and substantive contrast to Mitch McConnell, and I think that’s the kind of contrast we need. I think we have other candidates who fill that need, but I think Alison certainly qualifies."
Senate Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, Winchester: Judd Could Raise Money
On Judd: "I think there’s a lot of differing opinions. You know, obviously she's a very well known name, probably has the ability to put her own money in, and probably could raise a considerable amount of money. I think there may be some candidates out there that I would also like to see consider this race. But you know, I think that in the next couple of months, probably a month or two, you know, we need to be deciding because it’s a very formidable task. And it takes a long time to get across this state and see the people that you need to see, and raise the amount of money that you need to raise to wage this kind of campaign. So I would just hope that all those folks that are interested keep that in mind. As well as Ashley."
Other candidates: "I think there are a few other names that have been bantered about. The governor's been mentioned. Obviously, he’s indicated that he has no interest. Alison Grimes has been mentioned, and I hope she puts considerable thought into whether she wants to do this because I think she’d be a good candidate."
State Sen. Dennis Parrett, Elizabethtown: Judd 'Bright,' 'Talented,' Should Not Run for Senate
On Judd: "As far as Ashley Judd: very bright, very talented, but I don't believe she needs to be running for U.S. Senate."
On other potential contenders: "My name had been mentioned, I guess, in Roll Call. And they called me last fall, and I said I have absolutely no intention of running. I said, 'I'm honored that my name was in that group of potential candidates, but I’m focused on being the best state senator I can be.'
Certainly there's a potential slate of candidates. We've got a lot of young up and coming, very astute, sharp young people that are holding elected office in our state right now. And I think any of those would be a viable candidate. Now whether they choose to run or not, the talent is there. Now, I don’t want to speak for anybody that might be running, or who should run, but I think any of them would make a good senator."
State Sen. Dorsey Ridley, Henderson: Grimes a Capable Candidate
On Judd: "I don’t know who will be out there obviously. I think Ms. Judd certainly has got some background with regards to education that I think some people are probably unaware of with regards to having an MBA from Harvard. I don’t understand all that but that's my understanding."
On other potential contenders: "Alison Lundergan Grimes-- I think she is one who is certainly capable of being the next Kentucky U.S. senator. She's a very bright, articulate lady. And as far as being able to find the campaign contributions and so forth, I think she could bring a multitude of people to help raise funds for her. But I don’t know who's out there on the rise. It's certainly not Dorsey Ridley from Henderson."
State Senate Minority Whip Jerry Rhoads, Madisonville: 'Several Viable Candidates'
On Judd: "I think it's still an open process and I don't think from what I have heard that she has made the decision. I think the field might be a bit frozen right now until she commits one way or the other, but we've got several viable candidates, I think, who could offer a very credible challenge to Sen. McConnell."
On other contenders: "Secretary Grimes would be a very attractive candidate. She's articulate. I think we saw what she could do with Senate Bill 1. She's very knowledgeable, and a very good campaigner. We saw her comb the state in her Secretary of State race and she's one of the most effective campaigners I've seen. She would be very credible. She's a young, new voice, and I think she would make a very attractive candidate."
State Sen. Ray Jones, Pikeville: All Options Better Than McConnell
On Judd: "First of all Ms. Judd would be a viable candidate because of the name recognition and her ability to raise money. However, I don't think she would be the best candidate for the Kentucky Democratic Party to field against Sen. McConnell. I think she's taken some stances on a few issues that would be detrimental to her. But you know, with all due respect, it wouldn't be hard to find a candidate with a better track record than Sen. McConnell.
On McConnell: "He's completely out of step with Kentucky values and, in my opinion, has become not the senior senator from Kentucky, but the senior senator for corporate America. And I think we can field a viable candidate that represents traditional Kentucky values, that is moderate to conservative on social issues, that believes in Kentucky families, and would not be focused solely on perpetuating wealth among the wealthiest people in the country as Senator McConnell has."
On Grimes: "I think (Grimes) would be a viable candidate. I think there are a lot of people that would be viable candidates. The question is-- in this climate the question a lot of people ask-- is: do they want to put themselves in the middle of the mess that folks like Sen. McConnell have helped create? But we do need a new direction in Kentucky and I believe we have legitimate chances to take out Sen. McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul in the next two cycles."