Will she or won’t she run?
Actress Ashley Judd didn’t answer the question Friday of whether she’ll challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for his Senate seat in 2014. "Is there an elephant in the room?" Judd joked at one point.
But her appearance at George Washington University, officially to discuss women’s health and reproductive rights, offered quite a few hints that she is leaning toward running. Her are six of the biggest ones:
1. Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky. Judd has quite a few “y'all”s up her sleeve and is willing use them. She dropped some Southern charm and Kentucky knowledge on the D.C. crowd, asking one woman what county in Kentucky she was from and talking about her own rural upbringing. Then there was the way she framed the issues of feminism, which Judd defined as all people — men and women — "made in the image and likeness of our creator" and thus equal.
2. Her D.C. schedule. Judd tried to play off Friday’s event as one that has been in the making for five years — "Get that?” she said, hinting to the reporters in the room — but the reality is that Judd is making the rounds in Washington for the second time in as many weeks. That’s not happenstance. That’s the kind of schedule for someone closing in on a political candidacy.
3. She has the Republicans’ attention. Not only have Republicans launched attacks against Judd already, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee is paying close attention to every move she makes. NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring spent the afternoon taunting her speech on Twitter, firing off two dozen tweets. The choicest nugget Republicans were highlighting from Friday’s speech was Judd’s offhand remark, “We winter in Scotland; we’re smart like that.” The video was quickly clipped and posted online.
4. She’s very press aware. Celebrities who aren’t planning to run for political office don’t tend to be openly nervous about how they’ll be quoted after a speech. Judd was plainly on edge Friday. “I’m a lot more nervous than you are,” she told one student questioner. “There are people here who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about public health.” After one verbal misfire, Judd said, “That's the one thing that will end up in the paper.”
5. The company she keeps. Judd didn’t just waltz in solo to her event at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services. She was accompanied by security and university officials and, notably, Jess McIntosh, communications director for EMILY’s List. That would be the same EMILY’s List, the group dedicated to electing women who support abortion rights, which has been working for months behind the scenes to get Judd into the race.
6. Her mom. Among those in the audience for Friday’s event was Judd’s singer mother, Naomi Judd. When National Journal asked the elder Judd her thoughts on Ashley potentially running for office, she paused, pursed her lips, and twisted her fingers in a locked motion.
This article appears in the March 4, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily.