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McClatchy-Tribune News Service: Run, Ashley Run!

By GREGORY CLAY | McClatchy-Tribune News Service (Posted on Wednesday, March 13, 2013)

Ronald Reagan was an actor; he became president of the United States despite appearing in “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

Al Franken was a comedian on “Saturday Night Live”; now, he’s a Democratic senator from Minnesota, despite his late-night jokes.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a stalwart in shoot-’em-up action-packed movies; that didn’t stop him from becoming a Republican governor in California.

Now, there’s talk that Ashley Judd is one step closer to mounting a political campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky, challenging staunch Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell in 2014.

What’s the most obvious difference between Judd and the Reagan-Franken-Schwarzenegger troika? You guessed it: Judd is a woman. Now when was the last time a female entertainer was elected to a prominent political office in the United States?

Though Judd denied in a statement to the Huffington Post that she is seeking political office, some detractors apparently are taking her seriously. Most seriously for someone who hasn’t even announced her candidacy.

According to MSNBC political writer Gabriela Resto-Montero, “Karl Rove’s super PAC launched an attack ad against Judd in February, characterizing her as out of step with the culture in Kentucky, ending with the ominous note: ‘Ashley Judd: An Obama-following, radical Hollywood liberal, who’s right at home in Tennessee – I mean Kentucky.'”

Her ties to multiple states definitely would be an issue. Just think of the jabs Judd would have to endure on what’s sure to be a no-holds-barred campaign landmine from the Republicans. She grew up in Kentucky, lives in Tennessee and works in California and New York. Her Tennessee residency logically will be a point of contention among disapproving Republicans, who ostensibly will paint her as a carpetbagging Hollywood interloper with a Tennessee address and no visceral link to the problems of the Bluegrass State.

Judd vs. McConnell would be riveting political theater, indeed.

“I hope she runs; I think the fact that we have already seen attack ads against her, that tells me that the Republicans consider her a serious threat,” said Michelle Bernard, chairwoman, founder, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, a non-partisan, independent think tank in the Washington area.

“Win or lose, she would do all American women a huge favor. She would give women a voice in the state of Kentucky. Ashley Judd is a highly intelligent woman and there’s no reason she couldn’t do this.”

Here we are in March – also known as Women’s History Month – discussing the potential political exploits of Ashley Judd. Most of us know her as the ardent, blue-and-white-jersey-wearing Kentucky basketball fan who appeared in three noteworthy movies with Morgan Freeman – “High Crimes,” “Kiss the Girls” and “Olympus Has Fallen.” Judd is the sister of Wynonna Judd and daughter of Naomi, both country music stars. She had been married to Indianapolis 500 winner and Scotsman Dario Franchitti since 2001 before they separated in December.

Now, this is what most of us don’t know about Judd, who turns 45 on April 19:

She has a bachelor’s degree in French from the University of Kentucky, with minors in cultural anthropology, art history, theater and women’s studies.

-She has a Mid-Career Masters in Public Administration degree from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.

-She likes to bake cookies during times of stress.

-She has been a passionate champion for women’s rights for several years.

-She spoke on issues involving public health at George Washington University in the nation’s capital on March 1, telling students, “I’m a three-time survivor of rape, and about that I have no shame, because it was never my shame to begin with – it was the perpetrator’s shame. And only when I was a grown empowered adult and had healthy boundaries and had the opportunity to do helpful work on that trauma was I able to say, OK, that perpetrator was shameless, and put their shame on me. Now I gave that shame back, and it’s my job to break my isolation and talk with other girls and other women.”

The bottom line question: Could Judd really unseat the old-guard McConnell in a state that hasn’t seen a Democratic U.S. senator since Wendell Ford left office in January 1999?

“I think it would be very tough, but it’s not impossible,” said Jack Brammer, political reporter in the state capital Frankfort bureau for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I would never dismiss Ashley Judd.”

Why not?

“Because of her high name recognition,” explained Brammer, who has been covering the Kentucky political scene for 35 years. “Another thing she has going for her is she’s a very loyal fan to UK basketball.”

A potential campaign likely would be buttressed by the Hollywood elite. And, in January, the (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll found that of 609 registered Kentucky voters surveyed, only 17 percent said they planned to vote for McConnell for an additional six-year term.

However, McConnell, said Brammer, has a $7 million-plus war chest to deploy, and we know he plays hardball. “He has always been a tough campaigner,” Brammer reasoned. “And he usually tries to define his opponent, in negative terms, of course, before his opponent can define himself.”

Or, in this possible case – herself.

One key sticking point for Judd in relation to Kentucky voters could be her opposition to mountaintop removal of coal because of environmental concerns. Kentucky is the third-largest coal-producing state in the country, and at least 18,000 of its workers are directly employed in the industry. Therefore, during a lagging economy, Judd could be right smack in the midst of a job-issue controversy.

Still, coal controversy or not, it would be a shame if Judd ultimately decided not to throw her Hollywood Halo into the U.S. Senate ring in the reddest of red states. The tenor of the United States is changing on multiple fronts and many of these traditional, hardcore states should realize they have to adjust with the flow. If not now, then when? In this era of seismic shifts (did someone say the re-election of President Barack Obama?), change is necessary for survival. Or suffer in the background and be left behind.

Said Michelle Bernard the other day, “You don’t survive in Hollywood and not be able to handle anything a Mitch McConnell campaign throws your way. Women need to prove to the public – just as Hillary Clinton did in 2008 – that women can campaign as hard as men campaign.”

If Judd is a factor in 2014, then get your popcorn ready; let’s go to the political theater.


Gregory Clay is assistant sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service, 700 12th Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, D.C. 20005; email:

Copyright 2013 McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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