Ashley Judd's rumored run for Senator of Kentucky isn't just rousing Republicans — it may be scaring big-time Democrats, too. According to Politico reporter Manu Raju, former President Bill Clinton is so wary of Judd's potential pitfalls — in particular, her forceful comments about gender politics, Christianity, and mountain-top removal mining — that he and a team of Democratic operatives have begun courting Alison Lundergan Grimes, who serves as Kentucky's Secretary of State, in hopes that she'll consider running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has held his seat since 1985. Leaning heavily on anonymous sources, the report illustrates the odd dynamic surrounding Judd's potential candidacy: apparently unwilling to speak to Judd directly, Democrats are taking to the media — or at least Politico and the local Kentucky papers, without their names attached — to air their worries about running her against McConnell. Of course Grimes's supporters are speaking on the record, about Judd as a "risk."
At the very least, Democrats like Clinton are making sure Judd is cut out for politics, as the two-year runway gets shorter, and fast. Hence their courtship of Grimes, who comes from an established Kentucky family with strong ties to the state's Democratic firmament. Before, state Democrats had been casting about for simply a viable alternative. Judd's fame, both as an actress and philanthropist, would radically change the equation of challenging McConnell, who has clearly mastered the art of being re-elected, despite his unpopularity. Now they're looking at a big-time local Democrat just in case.
At the same time — as Politico's report makes pretty clear — Democrats are quite wary of speaking to Judd outright, of persuading her to stay out of the race. To a certain degree this wariness makes sense: Judd would likely trounce any challenger in the Democratic primary, based simply on her own name recognition and the injection of cash that would afford. And she has a well-documented habit of speaking her mind, especially when she feels wronged in some way.
The election, of course, is two years out, but even now it looks like Democrats may not enjoy the sort of campaign they were hoping for: a pure referendum on McConnell's political legacy, and the strife he has been party to in the nation's capital. Part of that has to do with Judd, who is vulnerable, no matter what, to attack ads. But so would anyone else — including Grimes. Remember, McConnell's camp isn't afraid to sling mud. So the Democrats, and Judd herself, have to decide who they think can take it, and maybe even throw it back.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.