NYT's Trip Gabriel Warns GOP: Don't Rule Out Hollywood Star Ashley Judd as a Senator

New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel promoted movie star and aspiring liberal politician Ashley Judd on Saturday: "Kentuckians Don’t Rule Out a Star as a Senator." Gabriel wrote: "How serious could such a candidacy be? Plenty, it turns out."

It would seem like a Republican fantasy: a famous actress, who has been described by her own grandmother as a Hollywood liberal, is floated as a Senate candidate in one of the country’s most conservative states, where she does not even live.

That is how Republican operatives gleefully seized on reports that the movie star Ashley Judd, who campaigned for President Obama, might challenge Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Republican in the United States Senate, when he is up for re-election next year.

“Ashley Judd -- an Obama-following, radical Hollywood liberal” is how an attack ad put it, produced by a group led by the Republican strategist Karl Rove.

How serious could such a candidacy be? Plenty, it turns out.

Gabriel forwarded concerns from "Democratic strategists" that "her views were too far left of Kentucky voters," but was otherwise strongly supportive.

Public polling in Kentucky 21 months from the election, therefore imprecise, shows that Mr. McConnell, the Senate minority leader, leads all potential Democratic challengers. But he won re-election to a fifth term in 2008 by one of the narrowest margins of any Senate incumbent in the country, running in a state where registered Democrats are in the majority.


Other Republicans have not been so courtly; they are following the lead of Mr. Rove’s “super PAC,” American Crossroads, which created a mocking online ad last week. Its narrator declared Ms. Judd “right at home in Tennessee -- I mean Kentucky.”

“What you have here is probably the state that has the most distaste for the Obama administration policies, from coal to gun policy to you name it,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist in Louisville. “Enter Ashley Judd, who apparently because she doesn’t live here didn’t get the memo on how unpopular Obama is.”

But those attack lines might not prove as potent as Mr. McConnell’s supporters hope, judging by conversations with voters in here in Ashland. Even discounting a tendency to support a local girl made good, the city of 22,000 on the Ohio River is the embodiment of many Kentucky communities, a onetime Democratic stronghold whose voters feel the national party has drifted too far left.

Still, many residents said Ms. Judd’s character, which they admired, was more important than her politics.

If Gabriel had been interested in spotlighting substantive criticism of Judd, he could have cited her notorious Daily Beast article last year responding to cracks about her "puffy" appearance, in which she morphed into a left-wing feminist: "...the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle." Judd, who of course has used her good looks to make a very good livelihood, then went on to talk about her "nearly flawless" skin at age 43, without "visible wrinkles that can be seen on television."