The Ugly Mitch McConnell-Ashley Judd Battle That Could Have Been

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Ashley Judd won't be challenging Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat next year, but a leaked audiotape shows how the McConnell campaign considered all kinds of potential attacks—including bringing up Judd's mental health issues. The tape shows campaign advisers who are almost gleeful at the prospect of facing Judd, since they would have little trouble painting her as an ultra-liberal "carpetbagger" with a host of personal, emotional problems.

In a scoop reminiscent of his work on Mitt Romney's "47 percent" tape, David Corn of Mother Jones obtained an audio recording of a McConnell campaign strategy session from February of this year. The purpose of the meeting was to review "opposition research" his team had already gathered on Judd, who was not even formally in the race. The team appears delighted at the treasure trove of material a Candidate Judd would hand to them—not just her connections to President Obama, her support for gay marriage, and her carpetbagger status, but her conflicted feelings on religion and her battles with depression.

On the tape, an unidentified aide reviews the "compilation of work" that already been been done on Judd, which he describes as "a haystack of needles, just because truly, there's such a wealth of material." As a famous actress who has spent years in the spotlight, they had dozens of interviews, blog posts, articles, and books, written by and about her to help paint a picture that most Kentuckians would probably find unflattering.

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Among Judd's sins: She supports the President and Obamacare. She supports cap and trade (in a state that leans heavily on the coal industry.) She's actually from Tennessee and is on the record calling San Francisco her home city. She's pro-choice, has described having children as "selfish," and finds it offensive when fathers "give away" their daughters at weddings. You can imagine the family values voters salivating at the prospect of giving her the boot.

But the harshest moment comes when Judd is described as "emotionally unbalanced," with the aide citing a hospitalization for depression and suicidal thoughts that she discussed in an autobiography.

To be fair to the McConnell team, this was a private strategy session and just because they gathered the research, it doesn't mean they were going to use all of it. But they did gather it nonetheless, and we've seen plenty of political campaigns that aren't afraid to get down in the muck when the going gets tough.

Judd decided late last month that she wouldn't seek the Democratic nomination, possibly because she anticipated what the campaign would turn into. A Hollywood celebrity running for office in Kentucky was guaranteed to face a brutal fight, but Judd was even more vulnerable than most when it comes to the outsider label. We'll never know how a McConnell-Judd campaign would have played out, but if this meeting is any indication, the Kentucky Senate race could have been one of the nastiest fights of 2014.

UPDATE: McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, who is mentioned in the tapes and in Corn's story, is blaming the leak on dirty tactics. In a statement to Politico, he says, "We’ve always said the Left will stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Nixonian tactics to bug campaign headquarters is above and beyond." They've also reportedly asked the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office to investigate the source of the recording.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.