Much has been made of late about the possibility of Ashley Judd making a run in the next election to challenge Senator Mitch McConnell. Though she hadn't even announced anything formal, Republicans already have tried to question her character by playing up the handful of nude scenes she's performed in films over the years. Because, you know, it's impossible to respect a woman once you've seen her naked. I've thought about the prospects for a Judd candidacy quite a bit and at this stage I have the following observations/thoughts/questions.
Diligence About Qualities
In a normal environment, people would be proud of Ashley Judd as a local girl who made good, but she should be mindful that there will be a whole lot of resistance to her coming off as a high-and-mighty know-it-all condescending to her old neighborhood. Almost all of her qualifications - her higher education, worldly knowledge, success in managing her career - can be liabilities for an electorate already hostile to all of those things. She needs to direct her campaign to Kentucky and not to America. If voters feel that she thinks she's better than they are just 'cause she's been all rich and famous, they'll shut her out.
Indications have been that he's more vulnerable in the next election than he has been in the past, but it's worth remembering that vulnerability isn't necessarily from Kentucky voters who think he's gone too far. A lot of it is from Kentucky voters who actually think he hasn't done enough to stand up to President Obama. McConnell's greatest vulnerability is in the primaries against other Republicans.Republicans may be divided on whether to support him, but that doesn't mean they'll embrace a liberal candidate.
The Significance of McConnell
Though he's been the Minority Leader in the Senate and wields considerable power within the GOP, at the end of the day he's not even the real issue. They'll simply promote the next most senior Republican to continue prosecuting their agenda. Defeating him won't stop the GOP antics of trying everything they can to undermine the President and hammer away as hard as possible on the social safety net that they've opposed since FDR signed Social Security into law.
I have a lot of respect for Ashley Judd and I'll happily cast my ballot for her given the chance, but speaking strictly from a political perspective it's rather conspicuous for her first political campaign to try to unseat the Senate Minority Leader. Sure, his political head would make a great trophy but it would seem more prudent to make a run for the House of Representatives first. It would go a long way to helping establish her seriousness about political office, and to give voters a chance to acclimate to the idea of being represented by her.
Why the Senate?
Tactically speaking, the Democrats already control the Senate. It's the House of Representatives where we need to take the fight to the Republicans. Though her one vote would not make a statistical difference, her campaign could help other Democrat challengers in House races across the state and even the rest of the country. A Judd-for-the-House campaign could easily be a media-friendly microcosm of the House itself, and help voters get a fresh perspective on what is really at stake in that legislative body. She could be the tide that lifts other boats in a way that is a lot less likely in a Senate campaign.
Regardless of all these details, at the end of the day voters will still rightly want to know what it is that Judd envisions as our elected official. Does she have a political platform beyond Not Being Mitch McConnell? Conventional wisdom holds that campaigns are not the place for details, but rather big picture rhetoric. However, because the public perceives Judd as an actor, she'll need to demonstrate enough political ideas that voters can get past the idea of her play-pretending at being a politician and accept her as one.