Talk of Tennessee resident Ashley Judd running for U.S. Senate in Kentucky has turned up ambiguity in state residency requirements that a legislative leader says need to be cleared up.
The U.S. Constitution requires only that Senate candidates be residents of the state they would represent "when elected." But Kentucky election law raises questions about whether candidates can have their names placed on ballots if they're not registered to vote in the state. That could be key, considering only legal residents can be registered to vote.
Judd, a former Kentucky resident now living outside of Nashville, is considering seeking the Democratic nomination in Kentucky to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell next year.
State Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he's unaware of residency being an issue in the past in a U.S. Senate race in Kentucky.
"That's something that we ought to look at so someone can't live in say, oh, Tennessee and then just move here the day before the election to qualify under a vague residency law," Thayer said Tuesday.
University of Kentucky law professor Joshua A. Douglas said, constitutionally, Judd clearly doesn't have to live in Kentucky until she's elected. But Douglas said a legal argument could be made that, under state law, Juddhas to be a resident by Dec. 31 to run in next year's Democratic primary.
"If she's going to run for the Democratic nomination here, then she's certainly going to get her residency and register to vote before this date," Douglas said. "I'd be shocked if she didn't."
Lynn Sowards Zellen, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, said the residency issue wouldn't be decided by her office if it were challenged.
"A qualified voter or opposing candidate may challenge a candidate's bona fides, and the determination whether the candidate is qualified, including whether he or she meets any residency requirements, would be left to the court," Zellen said.
Grimes also is considered a potential challenger to McConnell, although, like Judd, she has acknowledged only that she's being encouraged to run.
Judd has been largely mum about her intentions. As a potential candidate, she met privately with about 50 people last month in Louisville for a listening session to hear their concerns. She also has talked with Democratic leaders, including Gov. Steve Beshear, about the race.
Defeating McConnell would be the Democrats' biggest prize of the 2014 election. His seat is one of 14 that Republicans are defending while Democrats try to hold onto 21, hoping to retain or add to their 55-45 edge.
Democratic strategists Danny Briscoe and Dale Emmons differ on the importance of the residency issue.
Briscoe said he doesn't see it as problem for Judd, because she has strong Kentucky roots as a former Ashland resident and a University of Kentucky graduate.
"It's not like she'd move here for the first time," Briscoe said of Judd. "There are a lot of things to talk about in the campaign. I don't think residency is one of them."
Emmons, however, said not being a current resident of Kentucky "sends all the wrong messages to the electorate."