Ashley Judd getting a divorce. Does that make a Senate run more likely?

Ashley Judd, an-eighth generation Kentucky native, has lived in Tennessee and Scotland with her husband. Some Kentucky Democrats would like to see Ms. Judd take on Mitch McConnell in 2014.

By , Staff writer

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    Ashley Judd arrives at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards Governors Ball in Sept.
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Actress Ashley Judd and her husband, race car driver Dario Franchitti, are getting divorced after 11 years of marriage. We’re sure this is sad for both of them, but we’re going to jump ahead to the question every bored aide in the Hart Senate Office Building asked themselves Wednesday when they read the news: Does this mean she’s going to run for Senate in Kentucky?

[Editor's note: The original version of this story gave the wrong first name for Mr. Franchitti.]

Maybe you didn’t know that was a possibility. But it’s true: Some Kentucky Democrats are talking up Ms. Judd, an eighth-generation Kentucky native, as an ideal candidate to run against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014.

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Judd was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention this summer and is something of a political activist, so it’s not exactly like this is a wacky idea. Plus she’s been noncommittal in an encouraging kind of way when asked if she’s interested.

“I am incredibly honored and frankly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support – that the people of Kentucky are interested in having me represent them is the greatest honor of my life so far and I am certainly taking a close look at it,” said Judd before the Kentucky Society of Washington’s Bluegrass Ball in Washington on Jan. 19, according to a report in Politico.

OK, then. Does her impending divorce indicate she’s more likely to do this, or less?

Over at The Atlantic, Michael Catalini thinks it means Judd will take a pass.

“Given this development, there’s a chance Judd won’t want to jump into a messy political campaign,” he writes.

Catalini adds that this is “bad news” for Senator McConnell, since Judd would be politically weaker than other Democrats he might face. After all, Kentucky is a conservative state, and Judd’s own grandmother called her a “Hollywood liberal.” Plus, while she was a DNC delegate, she didn’t represent Kentucky. She represented Tennessee – the state she and Franchitti called home.

For the sake of argument we’ll take the other side. We believe the impending divorce means it’s more likely she’ll try electoral politics, not less. Her husband is Scottish, which might not exactly have won her votes, and the couple also lived part-time in Scotland, which is inconvenient if you’ve got to campaign in Lexington on Tuesday next. Now she can bill herself as making a clean sweep of things, including her non-Kentucky residencies, and say she’s coming home to the place she belongs.

(Yes, that’s a John Denver reference. Please keep reading anyway.)

After all, it isn’t like McConnell’s a steamroller. His recent polls numbers have been so-so, which is either surprising in light of his national status, or the result of it, depending on which expert you ask.

A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll found that 17 percent of voters said they would vote for McConnell, while 34 percent said they would vote against him. Forty-four percent said they would wait to see who McConnell runs against before deciding.

Tea party supporters in the state remain angry over McConnell’s role in the recent fiscal agreement with the Obama administration that kept the nation from plunging off the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Some Democratic donors have even discussed teaming up with tea party groups to fund a primary challenge to McConnell from the right.

Why? Because Democrats think someone to McConnell’s right would be a weaker statewide candidate, that’s why.

But Judd is going to have to stop acting coy and make her intentions plain fairly soon is she’s really going to run. Some state Democrats think her statements against mountaintop coal mining – a big issue in a state depending on coal jobs – would drag her down in a Senate race. Yet by toying with a run she’s blocking other, possibly more viable candidates from getting in themselves.

“Every day that the Democrats don’t settle on someone to run against McConnell is a day lost,” Nathan Smith, a former Kentucky Democratic Party vice chairman, told The Hill in late January.

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