What If Ashley Judd Had Run?

Mitch McConnell. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Mitch McConnell. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It now looks like Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be re-elected. With 33 percent of the vote in, he is leading Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by 55 percent to 42 percent. The reasonably competitive nature of this race, featuring one of the country’s most powerful Republicans in one of the country’s reddest state is a reflection of McConnell’s personal unpopularity. It also is evidence that while the Republicans may gain control of the Senate back tonight, 2014 will not be political earthquake comparable to, for example, 2006 Democratic wave.

Forgotten in the last months of the Grimes-McConnell campaign was that this was the race in which Ashley Judd, the actress and Kentuckian, who has dabbled in progressive politics over the years, initially expressed some interest. Ms. Judd decided not to run for a number of reasons, but a big part of that was because many within the party thought Ms. Grimes would be a stronger candidate. There is an intuitive logic to that. Ms. Grimes, after all, served as Kentucky’s Secretary of State and is more moderate than Ms. Judd.

Ultimately, Ms. Grimes was the safe choice, and the Democrats got a safe outcome. They put a scare into the powerful Republican Senator, can claim to have run a good race, but did not win. Perhaps, however, this risk-averse approach was the wrong one. Had Ms. Judd run, it is possible that she would have been attacked for being anti-coal or an out-of-touch Hollywood liberal and lost decisively. It is also possible, on the other hand, that Ms. Judd might have had a dynamism and a star power that could have moved Kentucky voters, and that she could have communicated a progressive message better than Ms. Grimes. The answer to this question will, of course, never be known. What is known is that the safe approach led to the the Republican Party holding the seat, and that an intriguing Democratic political career was put on hold–perhaps forever.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell. What If Ashley Judd Had Run?