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LOS ANGELES – Ashley Judd has yet to officially announce her political aspirations, but a source with intimate knowledge of the situation tells FOX411’s Pop Tarts column the actress is preparing herself to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky seat in 2014.
“At least in Ashley’s mind, it is happening,” said the insider. “She has devoted herself to many important causes and stepped away from the Hollywood spotlight so this seems like the logical next step. I don’t know if she will be successful, but her heart is in the right place.”
Judd, 44, has reportedly been meeting with well-financed Democratic donors, and last week ventured to Washington D.C for more public engagements.According to Don Peebles, Chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corporation, a member of President Obama’s National Finance Committee, and Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a Judd run is likely much more than a Hollywood fantasy.
“There looks to be a lot of noise around her running and she’s been active in commenting on politics of the day so it is certainly possible,” he said. “Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s approval ratings are low, and a lot of reports show that he is vulnerable to a challenge. While Kentucky leans right, it is not as conservative as most of its neighbors and the voters of Kentucky may be looking to send a message that they don’t feel fairly represented by Minority Leader McConnell.”
So is Judd's move from Hollywood star to thoughtful humanitarian impressive enough for Kentuckians to take her seriously?
“Sadly, Hollywood celebrities often confuse the characters they play with their own selves and mistakenly assume they know something. They usually don't. If she runs, it should be both a plus and a minus to Democrats,” surmised Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture at the Media Research Institute. “She has name recognition and that's always good. She is well known and will get lots of money, and that could make it close. Or maybe the people of the state will laugh at her and it will be a huge embarrassment to the left. We can always hope sanity will prevail.”
Yet others see Judd as an asset to the Democratic Party with the chops to offer up a fair fight.
“Ashley would add enormously to issues confronting Americans, especially women. She grew up in a home headed by a single mother and through hard work and sacrifice, she pulled herself up, graduated from college and went on to have a successful career,” said D.C-based attorney and political advisor, Margaret Cone. “As a favorite daughter from the state of Kentucky and with her ability to fund raise, she could give Senator McConnell a real run for the seat.”
Litigation and crisis communication expert Gene Grabowski of Levick Strategic Communications was left with a positive impression after watching Judd speak before an audience of George Washington University Public Health students last Friday, but noted there is much more to a successful Senate run than giving a good speech.
“She is poised, confident and knows how to tell moving stories about her experiences working with orphans and diseased children in Africa. She will be a very attractive candidate in a primary election and will have no problem raising money,” he anticipated. “Ms. Judd is coy about the issue of whether she will run, but she is obviously infatuated with the idea and probably will pursue the idea. In the short run, she will be a plus for Democrats. In the longer run however, she will be extremely vulnerable in a general election facing a veteran Republican who knows the issues inside and out.”
There is also some debate as to whether Judd’s status as a screen siren, one who has repeatedly flashed her flesh and romped around in the bedroom for art’s sake, will haunt her. In 1996’s “Norma Jean and Marilyn,” and 1999’s “Eye of the Beholder,” Judd went full-frontal and bared her backside, she went topless and bottomless in 1999’s “Double Jeopardy” exposed her breasts in 1996’s “Normal Life” and performed a lesbian sex scene in 2002’s “Frida.”
“Of course every movie and TV appearance she has ever made will be analyzed for clips to use against her. A conservative state won't like a senator who has gone naked in front of millions of people,” Gainor observed. “America has a celebrity culture. We pay too much attention to them, from Honey Boo Boo to Dennis Rodman. We also tend to forgive their idiocy, and that's Judd's only real hope of getting elected.”
However, Peebles pointed out that Judd’s raunchy movies have all been seen so there is “no shock factor like there is with revealing a secret or scandal.”
“Character attacks are entrenched as part of the political process these days so I don’t think it will be unexpected. Presumably she would be ready for any attack on this matter,” he said. “And from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jesse Ventura to Al Franken, folks that enter public service with a celebrity status have had success. Many people feel connected to these folks because they’ve followed their careers or appreciate their talents and it never hurts to be a known quantity before entering a race.”
Grabowski cautioned that if Judd does throw her hat in the Senate ring, she’ll find it much more challenging than memorizing a movie script.
“She will have a steep learning curve. One major stumbling block for Ms. Judd will be selecting the right people to guide her through the political and communications process. Right now, her handlers are relatively inexperienced publicists and friends,” he added. “She, and the Democratic Party, will have to ensure that she has far more experienced and capable advisors as soon as possible because she is being observed carefully right now to see if she has the right stuff to run for office.”
A rep for Judd did not respond to a request for comment.