Ashley Judd mocked in GOP ad. Will it scare her off Kentucky Senate run?

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is not popular in Kentucky, and a poll puts actress Ashley Judd, a Democrat, within range of defeating him in 2014. The ad is a preemptive strike.

Robert A. Martin/The Free Lance-Star/AP/File
Actress Ashley Judd (c.) gives a pep talk to volunteers for the Obama for President campaign at the Fredericksburg, Va., office on Oct. 21, 2012.

Did Ashley Judd think running for Senate in Kentucky would be a pleasant experience? If so, that’s an illusion that’s now probably been dispelled. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads "super PAC" has just released a brutal ad that torches Ms. Judd, who’s considering a Bluegrass State bid to unseat Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. It’ll be interesting to see if the spot helps scare her off – or if it lights her competitive fires and draws a response in kind.

The ad starts with a fake trailer listing production information. Its “client” is listed as “Ashley Judd, really?” The “title” is “Vote for me, you hillbillies.” The “date” is posted as, “Whenever Obama tells her to run."

Then an image flashes on screen of flags, sun streaming through a country porch, and so forth, and the fun really starts. “You know what this country really needs? An independent voice ... for Obama,” says the narrator.

An inset image of Judd voicing support for the president appears, over a caption that says, “Obama=brilliant."

Then the voice continues its mock-serious tone, calling Judd “a leader who knows how to follow," and “someone who will never forget where she came from."

That last line is followed by a clip of Judd saying, “and it just clicked: Tennessee is home.” (It’s true that Judd has split time between a Tennessee ranch and a home in Scotland with her soon-to-be-ex-husband, race car driver Dario Franchitti.)

The spot continues from there, mentioning that Judd’s own grandmother has called her a “Hollywood liberal," highlighting her support for Obama’s health-care reforms (“Obamacare has done so much right for us here in Tennessee,” she says in a clip), replaying clips of her saying “hillbilly” and “radical” several times, and so on.

The narrator wraps up with a flourish. “Ashley Judd,” he says, “an Obama-following, radical Hollywood liberal, who’s right home here in Tennessee. I mean Kentucky.”

We’ll note here that it’s unusual to launch campaign ads against people who aren’t actually running. Judd – daughter of country singer Naomi Judd and someone with deep Kentucky roots of her own – has said she’s considering the Senate race, and she’s been flattered to be asked, but so far she hasn’t done anything concrete to indicate she’s actually going to jump in. She hasn’t put together any campaign or money organizations, for instance, or begun to talk about issues in a manner more likely to appeal to voters in Kentucky, a state that’s reliably Republican at the national level.

But maybe the GOP is taking her seriously. After all, a December survey from Public Policy Polling found her to be Senator McConnell’s strongest potential challenger, trailing him by only four points, 43 percent to 47 percent.

In general, McConnell is in a fairly weak position, perhaps due to the time he spends on national as opposed to state concerns. A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll found that 34 percent of Kentucky voters said they planned to oppose McConnell, while only 17 percent said they would support him. Forty-four percent said they’d wait to see who ran against him before deciding whom to support.

In that context, the Judd ad could be considered as what Jim Geraghty at National Review’s The Corner blog calls “battlespace preparation." It rounds up all her perceived weaknesses in Kentucky and hits voters with them at once. If she does run, she’ll have to redefine herself in terms more likely to appeal to Kentucky’s generally conservative voters.

But Karl Rove is pretty shrewd about state-level politics, and it’s also possible that he’s just doing this as a generic support for McConnell and a way to get some attention in the national media. After all, the group says it’s spending only about $10,000 to push this Web-only spot. That’s a rounding error on American Crossroads’ checkbook. So he’s just saluting it up a flagpole to see who runs. Or something like that.

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