Kentucky native and UK grad Ashley Judd. Chattering classes are agog.
(Clinton, KY) - A serious discussion of Ashley Judd and Alison Lundergan Grimes and their chances to unseat the senior senator from Kentucky on the earliest segment of Morning Joe this morning was a seriously weird experience. Almost as weird as hearing Jon Stewart praise Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, on The Daily Show for his real talking filibuster.
Kentucky and Kentucky's politicians are in the brightest national spotlight since Lincoln worried aloud that losing Kentucky would be the death knell of the Union. In between times, the Bluegrass State has been flyover country. It's not an early primary state. It's not a bellwether. It has few electoral votes and it gets called for one side long before the polls open. It gets little of the attention lavished on neighboring Ohio.
Long ignored, Kentucky is now a conundrum because it refuses to be shoved into a cubbyhole convenient for pundits. Is it red? Is it blue? Or is it purple? That depends on where you stand and what office you're looking at.
Running against a national tide, Kentucky has a Democratic governor, a Democratic House of Representatives, a Republican State Senate. An overwhelming majority of statewide elected officers (only the Agriculture Commissioner is a member of the Grand Old Party) are Democrats. Republican politicians on the state level have had mixed results on becoming the majority party. Kentuckians still are registered Democratic by an almost 2-1 margin.
The GOP has made inroads into Kentucky's Washington delegation with two Repubican senators and the majority of GOP Congressmen (only John Yarmuth of Louisville is a Democrat). The state voted twice against Barack Obama and went with George W. Bush twice. But Kentucky went strongly for fellow mid-Southerner Bill Clinton twice and went for Jimmy Carter back in '76.
Whatever gains the GOP has made in the Bluegrass State are laid at the feet of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. During McConnell's tenure, the GOP may not have changed a majority of party registrations, but they have moved the political needle to the right side of the dial. A great majority of rural Kentuckians and their elected officials are indistinguishable philosophically from Republicans, regardless of their registration. Urban Kentuckians, in what Kentuckians call the "Golden Triangle" (the area roughly made up of a line from Lexington to Covington to Louisville and back) are closer to Democratic ideology.
McConnell seems always to draw a Democratic opponent. None have been able to grant the fondest wish of their supporters who long to "Ditch Mitch." Mcconnell is a canny campaigner who takes no prisoners and gives no quarter. McConnell's strategy in the past has been to campaign not on HIS record, but on his opponent's. No one is better at finding the other guy's soft underbelly, exposing it and exploiting its weakness until all the public remembers is why they should not vote for the opponent. Mitch excels at being the lesser of two evils.
The difference in 2014 is that Senator McConnell is no longer 1/100 of the US Senate. He's the big dog of the GOP in the US Senate. Democrats in Congress and the White House cannot accomplish their goals because they cannot get past Republican recalcitrance. The Senate may have a Democratic majority, but it is not a supermajority. McConnell and the GOP have a vote larger than their numbers in what gets done in the Senate. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner may not be buddies, but they have a common goal: block issues dear to Democratic hearts. Taking Mitch McConnell out of the US Senate is no longer just a Kentucky dream, it's a national priority.
Mitch's problems are not just with that other party. Along the way, he's come to represent the old guard of the Republican Party. The experienced political operative has made some deals over the years. If Mcconnell has a discernable philosophy, it consists of one word - WIN. That doesn't sit well with the purists in his own party. The libertarian, anti government wing known as the Tea Party see McConnell as a quisling who has supped with the devil Dems once too often.
Louisville's Tea Party is reportedly recruiting a young man, Matt Bevin, to carry their banner into a primary. The past president of a Kentucky Tea Party organization charged recently that his ouster was due to his support of Mitch McConnell.
On the Dem side, the question facing those who wish McConnell a shortened career is who is best able to defeat the Senator? Is it movie star Ashley Judd? The rising young political insider Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes? They seem to be the only two Democratic names being bandied about on the state and national level.
An article on the WFPL.org website lays out the pros and cons of each of the challengers. (follow the jump at the bottom of the page).
We shall not belabor their points here. Over the next year, challengers will be analyzed and cross examined up and down the internet, newspapers and television dials.
Getting back to the seriously weird experience before dawn this morning, hearing Politico's Mike Allen mispronounce Alison Lundergan Grimes' name and to call Jerry Lundergan a "union organizer" brought a wince at 5:30 in the morning. (It was way too early to guffaw).
Hearing him say that Ashley Judd is against coal brought me straight up in the bed. Allen mischaracterized a comment of Judd's that makes one wonder what the hell he knows about Kentucky. Allen reported that Judd had compared coal mining to rape. As a native of Eastern Kentucky, Judd is surely familiar with coal mining. She also is familiar with the practice of slicing the tops from mountains to reach the coal beneath known as mountaintop removal. Judd compared mountaintop removal - not coal mining - to rape. Repeating the remark came across like a Mitch McConnell campaign ad.
Bevin and Judd and Lundergan Grimes will have to figure out on their own their chances of winning and if the price to their personal lives is worth the fight. Because the price will not be cheap. Pre-emptive strikes have already been launched against Bevin and Judd.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will not go gently. He will cheerfully tear chunks out of any opponent with the temerity to challenge his seat in the US Senate.
Whoever takes him on will need miles of guts, piles of money and the luck of a Powerball winner.