Does Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell miss Ashley Judd yet?
We ask this because there’s a new poll out showing the GOP Kentucky lawmaker, who is up for reelection in 2014, tied with a potential Democratic opponent who is not a movie star: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The survey from generally Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows Senator McConnell and Ms. Grimes both draw 45 percent of voters in a hypothetical matchup. That represents a slide on McConnell’s part, according to the PPP data. The firm had him leading Grimes by 4 points in April and 7 points last December.
“McConnell’s early positive advertising has done nothing to improve his prospects for reelection and in fact this is actually the weakest position PPP has found him in yet,” writes Tom Jensen, PPP polling director.
If you remember, actress/activist Ms. Judd was considering running against McConnell herself. Some Bluegrass State Dems were eager for her to make the race, given that she could raise lots of money and generate news coverage with minimal effort.
But in late March she announced she wouldn’t do it.
“After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family,” Judd tweeted at the time.
Why would McConnell wish for the co-star of “Tooth Fairy” as his opponent? Because she would have been easy to run against, that’s why.
Karl Rove’s American Crossroads "super political-action committee" put up an ad in February that previewed some of the themes McConnell likely would have used against her in a Republican-leaning state. It portrayed Judd as a tool of President Obama, a Hollywood liberal, and a resident of Tennessee to boot.
That last bit could have been a killer. Judd has made her principal residence in Tennessee for some time, and she was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year from Tennessee, not her home state.
You can be sure that before Election Day 2014 rolled around the McConnell team would have made sure every person in Kentucky had seen the clip of Judd saying, “and it just clicked – Tennessee is home,” until they were hearing those words in their sleep.
Now that won’t happen. And the Senate minority leader is tied (maybe – it’s just one poll) with an opponent who has much less baggage.
Of course, Grimes has not yet decided whether she’ll challenge McConnell, either. The daughter of a former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman, she’s in her first term and is not that well known in her own right around the state.
That last fact is why the PPP poll may overstate McConnell’s electoral weakness, points out Philip Bump at The Atlantic Wire.
It’s true that McConnell isn’t wildly popular in Kentucky. He’s spent lots of time on national issues at the expense of cultivating his base. But Grimes is a relative blank slate. The PPP poll showed a plurality of 42 percent of respondents had no favorable or unfavorable opinion of Grimes.
“How she is perceived by the public is largely an open question, in other words – and it’s one that could be defined by McConnell (with his deep pockets and his opposition research-performing staffers, not to mention the national party machine) as easily as by Grimes’ campaign."
In others words, she’d get hammered, too. Or will get hammered, if she decides to run. The McConnell team is probably cutting ads right now.