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Hollywood Cachet Doesn't Always Cash In

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Judd would be a powerhouse fundraiser nationwide, but her Hollywood appeal isn’t likely to win over voters in Kentucky.

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While Tennessee is next to Kentucky, and both states’ universities are members of the Southeastern Conference, I’m guessing that the people of Kentucky think that someone who has spent the past few years living in Kentucky, not Tennessee, should represent the state in the Senate.

Yes, Judd grew up in Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky. But that won’t insulate her from charges of carpet-bagging, or eclipse her past political statements and activities.

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., was quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal as saying, “If you had an Ashley Judd-McConnell race, I think it would be as high profile a race as Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.”

He is right about that. It would be high profile. But unlike this year’s Massachusetts contest, Judd wouldn’t have much of a chance, because Kentucky is not Massachusetts.

Warren beat Brown even though she ran 7 points behind Obama in the state. The president received 61 percent of the vote in Massachusetts earlier this month, but only 38 percent in Kentucky.

Democrats haven’t won a statewide federal race in Kentucky since 1996, when President Bill Clinton carried the state with 45.8 percent in a three-way race. The last Democrat to win a Senate race was Wendell Ford in 1992.

Democrats continue to win the state’s governorship, but as I have noted repeatedly over the past two decades, it isn’t unusual for the minority party to elect a governor or other down-ballot statewide officials.

Voters see state office as different from federal office, which is why voters in Hawaii elected Republican Linda Lingle as governor in 2002 and 2006 (with more than 62 percent of the vote) but gave her only 37 percent this year when she ran for the Senate.

It is also why Kansas elected Democrat Kathleen Sebelius as governor in 2002 and 2006 but has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.

In fact, Democrats have won nine of the state’s past 14 gubernatorial elections going back to 1966 without winning a Senate race or carrying the state for their presidential nominees during that time.

I don’t doubt that EMILY’s List would love for Judd to run. I am quite certain that the pro-choice Democratic group could raise a lot of money nationally by using her name in fundraising. But that is part of the reason why she could not win a Senate race in Kentucky. She would be a Hollywood-backed celebrity in a decidedly non-Hollywood state.

In fact, in a midterm election during President Barack Obama’s second term, Ashley Judd would have about the same chance of getting elected to the Senate in Kentucky as Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., would have of being elected president of EMILY’s List.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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