SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

March 5, 2013

Ashley Judd – go girl!

Judd may lure spotlight to Kentucky Senate race

              Jack Torry

Of all the speakers who addressed the Ohio delegation at last September’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., the most eloquent was not former Gov. Ted Strickland or Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who wants to run for president in 2016, or U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, daughter of former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan.

Instead, the most effective was film actress Ashley Judd. Standing at a lectern before the Ohio delegates, she did what few people have managed to accomplish: Make a coherent and persuasive argument in defense of the 2010 health law signed by President Barack Obama. She told the delegates that “in your state alone, 640,000 children with pre-existing medical conditions cannot be denied insurance.”

She then fearlessly waded into the divisive issue of abortion, echoing former President Bill Clinton when she declared that “abortion should be safe, it should be legal and it should be rare.”

And she asserted that “if we make sex education available to boys and girls, make modern family planning available, we prevent unintended pregnancies. We make the need for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother, obsolete.”

Judd, 44, more familiar for portraying Linda Lee Thomas opposite Kevin Kline in the 2004 film De-Lovely, is now being seriously talked about as a Democratic challenger next year to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“Even good speakers have nothing on Ashley Judd,” said Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky. “She brings (into the race) this huge advantage.”

If she does run — and the speculation is she will make an announcement around the Kentucky Derby in May — then the most high-profile Senate race in the country will take place just 100 miles from Columbus. National reporters who flocked to Ohio last year for the presidential election will swerve south to cover this most compelling of Senate races.

Just how serious is Judd? She spent this past weekend in Washington with a speech at a women’s forum. McConnell and Republicans are taking her seriously, having lobbed a few TV commercials against her suggesting — gee, this is a surprise — that she is just another one of the dreaded Hollywood liberals.

Hollywood and politics have long-established links. The most famous actor to turn politician was Ronald Reagan, who served two terms as president. George Murphy, a song-and-dance man in film, served one term as a U.S senator from California. Fred Grandy, who played Gopher on the TV hit The Love Boat, served four terms as a Republican member of the U.S. House from Iowa. TV and film actor Fred Thompson of Tennessee served eight years in the U.S. Senate.

Others were not quite as successful. Wendell Corey, who played the detective in Rear Window, lost a primary race for Congress in California. Karen Morley, who starred in the MGM classic Dinner At Eight, lost a race for lieutenant governor of New York.

Judd appears to have the background for politics. She long has been a champion of Democratic causes and is an avid environmentalist. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and earned a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. And while she is a resident of Tennessee, larger residency challenges than that have been overcome.

The problem is that while Judd might be a slam-dunk winner in New York, Massachusetts or California, Kentucky is not a haven for progressives and environmentalists. Trust me: This state is conservative.

“The most compelling argument I can think of for not supporting Ashley Judd is that the race ought to be about Mitch McConnell . . . and not about Ashley Judd,” said Ernie Yanarella, a professor of political science at the University of Kentucky. “Even at this early hour, it has been apparent that outside forces are already framing Ashley Judd as little more than an actress with Hollywood liberal leanings.”

Jack Torry is chief of the Dispatch Washington bureau.


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