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Actress Ashley Judd’s movement toward a Senate run against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell makes Democrats in Washington, D.C., happy.
But back in Kentucky, for many Bluegrass State Democrats, a potential Judd run brings a different feeling: heartburn.
“If she runs, I think that it would be a catastrophe for a lot of downballot races in Kentucky,” said Jimmy Cauley, a longtime Kentucky Democratic strategist who doesn’t believe Judd can win a general election. Among Democratic state legislators, he said, “there is significant worry about Ashley being on the ballot.”
Democrats plugged into the Frankfort, Ky., zeitgeist publicly and privately confirmed those sentiments. The crux of their worry is this: As a celebrity and strong supporter of President Barack Obama, Judd’s position at the top of the ticket could nationalize state and local races. They see her losing the Senate contest — an uphill climb for any Democrat — and potentially poisoning the conservative brand of some state Democrats.
For years, the Kentucky Democratic Party has racked up significant successes at the state and local level, from the governor’s mansion down the ballot. But in federal elections, Republicans have won victory after victory. In November, Obama lost the state, winning less than 38 percent of the vote.
“I have yet to talk to an elected official in Kentucky — other than [Rep.] John [Yarmuth] — who thinks Ashley should run or thinks she can prevail in this contest,” Kentucky Democratic consultant Dale Emmons said.
Yarmuth, Kentucky’s sole Democrat in Congress, has been Judd’s loudest cheerleader since he first floated her name last year. In an interview with CQ Roll Call this week, he said “she’d be a very strong candidate” and called her “the top prospect” for a McConnell challenge.
But pressed on local Democrats’ unease about Judd, Yarmuth shot back.
“Do they have a better idea?” he asked. “Because if they do, they ought to come forward.”
Another Democratic worry about Judd is her position against mountaintop removal coal mining, which she has called a “scourge.” It remains a divisive issue in the state.
Yarmuth said he understands her “issues” but doesn’t think she’ll be a downballot drag. “Once people would see her, listen to her passion, listen to her commitment to the Commonwealth, I think she can overcome those potential obstacles,” Yarmuth said. He said her support of Obama and her opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining wouldn’t hurt her.
Yarmuth and Judd allies note that polling shows a vast majority of Kentucky voters know who she is and that she would begin a matchup within range of McConnell.
Despite the numbers, the specter of a Judd run and Yarmuth’s vocal support for her has Democrats such as Cauley fuming.