Actress Ashley Judd returned to the District on Friday for the second time in as many weeks, highlighting her Eastern Kentucky roots as speculation mounts about a potential Senate campaign against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Judd spoke at a forum on women's reproductive rights, a pet issue of hers, at George Washington University, where she was accompanied by an entourage of at least half a dozen people, including EMILY's List communications director Jess McIntosh and her mother, country singer Naomi Judd.
McIntosh's presence in the room, and Judd's repeated references to her upbringing in Eastern Kentucky and her time at the University of Kentucky, not to mention her reported meeting with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last week, seem to be signs that she is seriously considering a run for office. She has also recently met with Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and Gov. Steve Beshear and is working to set up with meetings with Democratic leaders in the state legislature as well. Just yesterday, state House Speaker Greg Stumbo said that he had changed his mind about Judd and considered her a strong conteder for the seat.
But Judd steered clear of speculation about her political future, merely thanking reporters who asked for attending the event as she exited. One GW student alluded to Judd's Senate ambitions during a Q&A session. "Is there an elephant in the room?" Judd joked, but she did not elaborate any further.
Earlier in the program, as students lined up to ask questions Judd quipped, "I can't wait to hear from the College Republicans. They're very welcome."
Judd also mentioned that she loves grassroots campaigning, something to which she has become accustomed an activist for women's health and the poor, saying that talking with average Americans at churches and bus stops "feeds me, gives me a lot of energy."
The actress did not avoid some of the social issues that could alienate conservative voters in the Bluegrass State, discussing the problems of "too many uninsured children in this country," broadening access to contraceptives and sexual violence against women in the military. "As glad as I am that women are now permitted in combat, my first fear was, there will be more rape," Judd said.
However, she also emphasized encouraging abstinence and what she called the "delay of sexual debut" in order to eliminate the need for abortion, which she called "the ultimate goal."
She also discussed her faith, after being prompted by a student's question, saying that some of her work in brothels and orphanages across the globe has caused her to "fire God," but added: "There's always something that brings me back."
Should Judd opt into the race, she will face a strong opponent in McConnell, who already has more than $7 million stashed away for his reelection. His campaign and their allies have for weeks been putting out opposition research on Judd and both the campaign and American Crossroads have run web ads against her.
But Judd can count on heavy advertising from outside groups as well, including Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, which have already begun targeting McConnell in TV advertising, as well as EMILY's List and the DSCC. She will also certainly be the beneficiary of plenty of free media, both due to her celebrity status and McConnell's high-ranking position in Congress.
Judd may not be able to count on the liberal super PAC Progress Kentucky, which has been vocal in its opposition to McConnell since the 2012 elections. This week the group came under fire for racially-tinged tweets aimed at his wife, who is of Chinese descent. The group raised just $1,004 in December, ending the month with $986 left in the bank, according to documents that were filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, almost a month late. "We didn't start fundraising until Christmas, so the money that has been raised was raised in January in February," explained former spokesman Curtis Morrison, who resigned from the group yesterday.
Morrison said that his resignation was unrelated to the Twitter scandal, which erupted on Tuesday. He added that the group is being unfairly treated by the media, noting that the most egregious of the group's tweets was actually a retweet, and the group does state in its Twitter bio that "Links/RTs are not endorsements." "There's a little bit of Shirley Sherrod in there," Morrison said of the news coverage. "I think the media backlash has been a little extreme, in my opinion."