Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is actively preparing for a Kentucky Senate race against actress Ashley Judd, but he doesn't seem at all bothered by his own campaign's polling showing the race surprisingly competitive.
That's because McConnell insiders privately are rooting Judd on, convinced her liberal views would make her a sitting duck in such a conservative state. They're hoping she's enticed to run by polls showing the race close, even though they believe the opposition research is devastating to her candidacy.
The campaign released a poll, conducted by longtime pollster Jan van Lohuizen, showing McConnell leading against Judd, but only by a four-point margin, 47 to 43 percent. They later shared numbers further down the poll where they tested various opposition arguments against her, including the fact that she "lives in Scotland" and "doesn't own a home in Kentucky," believes the "era of the coal plant is over" and "thinks it is unconscionable to breed." When those attack lines are posed, large pluralities of Kentucky voters said they would be much less likely to vote for her. And after all the oppo arguments are tested, McConnell emerges with a 56 to 36 percent lead.
Despite the bullish tone of the memo, the very fact that McConnell's team is spending money to game plan strategy against the actress suggests they are taking her candidacy very seriously. In 2008, Republicans working for then-Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman presented similar strategy memos mocking the candidacy of then-comedian Al Franken, who later knocked off the incumbent.
But it is also evident that their concern lies more with McConnell's own standing, and less about Judd's political potential. The poll showed McConnell job approval rating at 51 percent, decent but hardly commanding numbers given that it's an internal poll. The campaign hired Rand Paul's former campaign manager Jesse Benton well before the 2012 elections ended, in order to head off any prospective primary challenger. And it doesn't take an internal poll to understand that Judd's cultural liberalism would be a very tough sell in the Appalachian heartland. The bigger concern for McConnell is if a more conservative Democrat, like Rep. Ben Chandler or Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, decides to jump in the race.
Van Lohuizen's Voter/Consumer Research firm surveyed 600 likely voters between December 10-13, and has a four percent margin of error.