Ashley Judd will not challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell next year, the actress announced on Twitter this evening.
Though speculation has mounted for months that Judd would run for McConnell's seat in her home state of Kentucky, Judd said on Twitter that she is "currently unable to consider a campaign," but would work to return the seat "to whom it rightfully belongs: the people & their needs, dreams, and great potential."
Judd had been seriously considering a bid and had met with EMILY's List and other Democratic groups about mounting a bid to defeat McConnell next year. But her moves did not go unanswered. McConnell's campaign and other Republican groups, including American Crossroads and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, launched an early onslaught against Judd, criticizing her for a history of controversial comments, her position on coal and for currently residing in Tennessee and "wintering" in Scotland.
Still, Judd was not without support. Internal polling conducted late last year for McConnell's own campaign showed her coming within just four points of the incumbent. And several prominent Kentucky Democrats had touted her as a formidable opponent, particularly Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who has long been effusive in his praise about her potential candidacy.
Focus will now turn to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who said in October that she was looking at the seat, but has remained relatively quiet since Judd’s was floated as a potential Senate candidate. But Grimes’ name resurfaced recently as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reportedly began taking a second after internal polling showed her running closer to McConnell than Judd in a general election.
Grimes is a proven fundraiser who is well-known statewide thanks to her own political career and her father's -- Jerry Lundergan is the former chairman of the state party. She won more than 60 percent of the vote in 2011 and also has strong ties to the Clintons and former president Bill Clinton has reportedly urged her to seek the seat. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.
Democrats have insisted that McConnell is vulnerable in 2014, but it will still be a hard slog for any Democratic candidate to win the Senate seat. McConnell reported having nearly $7 million in the bank for his reelection at the end of 2012 and has worked hard to raise money since then, pulling in more than $200,000 in an event with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Monday alone.
He is also already up on television with his first ad -- the earliest ad buys by an incumbent senator this cycle -- with an ad highlighting his love of Kentucky and slamming "far-left special interests," and he has worked hard to court the tea party groups who helped elect his colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in 2010 -- a potential warning sign to challengers.
CORRECTION: An original version of this story misidentified Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes' father.