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“If John Yarmuth wants to be highest ranking Democrat in the state of Kentucky, he should keep pushing Ashley Judd,” Cauley said. “Because we will lose the Legislature and we will lose the governor’s office and he’ll be the only one left.”
Yarmuth called Cauley’s comments “outrageous” and untrue. “We’re not going to lose control of Frankfort,” the four-term lawmaker said.
But Judd’s potential bid comes at a pivotal moment for state Democrats. Republicans already control the state Senate. If the GOP nets six seats in the state House in 2014, the party will take the chamber.
Another reason some Democrats are anxious about a Judd bid? They fear the focus will be on her celebrity, instead of McConnell. Public polls have shown a plurality of Kentuckians view McConnell unfavorably, and national Democrats believe he is vulnerable.
“Any number of Democrats have the ability to mount a credible challenge against him,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said, “and the longer he continues voting against the people of Kentucky, the more likely it is that a strong candidate will send him packing.”
Many names have been floated as potential McConnell challengers — Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is mentioned most often — but few appear to be seriously considering a run.
That’s the result of two political realities in the Bluegrass State.
First, Judd’s trial balloon has frozen the Democratic field. Any other would-be candidates will probably wait until she makes a decision. Second, local Democrats see two more appealing opportunities to run statewide on the horizon: the open 2015 gubernatorial race and Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 re-election race.
Ambitious Democrats can run in either contest and avoid McConnell’s potent opposition-research and fundraising operations. At the end of last year, McConnell had $7.4 million in the bank.
Judd’s backers say Democrats who fear her candidacy have it all wrong.
“I know a number of people who are critical of her haven’t met her yet,” said a prominent Kentucky Democrat who knows Judd. The source said these Democrats have bought into the “narrative of her as doctrinaire liberal.”
“But those of us who have met her know she’s not going to run an Elizabeth Warren campaign in Kentucky,” the source said, referring to Massachusetts’ famously progressive senior senator.
Judd might not run with Warren’s views, but there are aspects of the Massachusetts Democrat’s campaign that she could replicate to her advantage. Judd would galvanize the grass roots, and the race to defeat the top Senate Republican would become a national cause, bringing in big bucks in the process.
She would be “innovative and forward-thinking,” said Silas House, a close friend of Judd and a professor at Berea College.
Republicans have already attacked Judd for not being a true Kentuckian. A recent ad by the Republican group American Crossroads used video of her saying, “and it just clicked, Tennessee is home.”
But House said he doesn’t “know a prouder Kentuckian than Ashley Judd. She’s so proud of her roots in eastern Kentucky and throughout her whole career and her life, she’s celebrated that in every way.”