Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will not be facing a challenge from actress Ashley Judd when he runs for reelection next year. Though he may be happy to have avoided the physical comparison -- she, after all, played Marilyn Monroe in a movie, while he looks like an ancient sea turtle dressed in a $1,000 suit -- the Kentucky Republican may miss having such an attractive target for his attack machine.
McConnell is not all that popular back home. Democrats, of course, can’t stand him and tea party Republicans may like him even less. To militants on the right, he is the quintessential Washington insider, dealmaker and compromiser. In January, a Louisville Courier-Journal poll found that only 34% of Kentucky Republicans would definitely vote for McConnell, no matter who his competitor might be.
McConnell is in the kind of political pickle that his Democratic counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, found himself in back in 2010. The Nevada senator lucked out by having a crazy-talking tea party goofball as his opponent and he eked out a victory. Judd would have been a more credible foe, but the McConnell team, backed by mountains of PAC money, could have made the election all about her, and thereby deflected the attention from him.
Judd was an unknown commodity as a candidate. Being a celebrity won her immediate attention when it was learned she was contemplating a run, but she lacks the star power of outspoken Hollywood liberals like George Clooney or Alec Baldwin. In her latest movie, “Olympus Has Fallen,” she plays the first lady but gets bumped off in the opening minutes -- definitely not an A-lister’s fate.
What her celebrity life offered to Republicans was a golden hoard of raw material for attack ads. The nearly nude photos probably would not have done Judd much harm (nearly nude photos of McConnell, on the other hand, would send voters careening for the exits), but her anguished memoir and bleeding-heart rhetoric offered rich material. Many voters would be appalled by the reason she refused to have children with her hunky, Scottish, race car driving, soon-to-be-ex-husband.
“It’s unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries,” Judd is widely quoted as saying.
Kentuckians generally are pro-breeding folk. Plus, her comparison of certain coal mining techniques to the genocide in Rwanda might not have won her many fans in coal country.
So, all things considered, McConnell is probably sorry to see Ashley use the old, seldom believable “need to spend time with my family” excuse to get out of a run against him. (With a pending divorce and no kids, one might ask, “What family, Ashley?”)
Republican Party officials are openly mocking the Democrats for their failure to come up with a candidate to run against McConnell, but they should not get too smug. Former President Bill Clinton has been urging another attractive brunette to enter the race. The young woman getting Clinton’s formidable charm assault is Alison Lundergan Grimes, who just happens to be a real politician. As Kentucky’s secretary of state, Grimes has run and won a statewide race.
A Grimes/McConnell contest would not offer the fun of following a candidate from Hollywood, but it could put the incumbent senator directly in the spotlight. If the campaign becomes a referendum on his record, Mitch McConnell might find himself filled with a wistful longing for a missed chance to share the stage with Ashley Judd.