The continuing talk about actress Ashley Judd’s potential U.S. Senate run in Kentucky is centered around her two possible opponents. But lost in the coverage is the trailblazing potential of her candidacy.
Judd, 44, is rumored to be considering a run for public office, likely as a Democrat, against Mitch McConnell in 2014 or Rand Paul in 2016.
Political reporters aren’t treating the story as a joke. The influential news website Politico says it talked to four people familiar with the situation.
Judd has never run for office, and either McConnell or Paul would be a formidable opponent, if the election were held today.
If Judd were to make a bid for the Senate, she would be one of the highest-profile female celebrities to ever run for office in the United States.
There are many women who have served in the Senate and the House, but few have jumped directly into an election without some political experience.
In 2013, there will be 20 women serving in the Senate, including newcomers like Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. An additional 78 women will serve in the House of Representatives.
Recently, three women with extensive business careers ran in high-profile elections: Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Linda McMahon.
And three women involved in American politics were listed in Forbes‘ annual ranking of the 100 most powerful women in the world: Hillary Clinton (second), Michelle Obama (seventh), and Janet Napolitano (ninth).
But the list of women from the world of entertainment jumping right into national politics is a short one indeed.
In the 1940s, Broadway actress Helen Gahagan Douglas (the wife of actor Melvyn Douglas) served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from California before a nasty Senate election against Richard Nixon ended her career.
Nixon’s team called Gahagan Douglas the “pink lady” as they tried to connect her to Communism. Douglas coined the term “Tricky Dick” to describe Nixon.
Another politician from California was Shirley Temple Black, the former child actress. Black ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1967, after she retired from acting in 1950. She was then appointed as an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
Black was also the first woman to be the Chief of Protocol of the United States, a rank that is equivalent to ambassador.
In 1942, writer Clare Boothe Luce won her first of two elections to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican candidate from Connecticut. Luce declined to run for a third term, and she was later an ambassador to Italy.
Actress Nancy Kulp from The Beverly Hillbillies ran for a state Senate seat in Pennsylvania, but lost the election after her opponent enlisted actor Buddy Ebsen to criticize her in a TV ad.
And actress Sheila Keuhl from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis went to Harvard Law after that TV show ended and served in the California Legislature.
If the early reports about Judd’s chances in Kentucky are true, a contest between the actress and McConnell, the 70-year-old Senate minority leader, could be more like the Douglas-Nixon election.
Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager, told Politico that his candidate was ready for any contender.
“It’s going to sting,” Benton said. “We’re going to make sure that you don’t come out with your nose clean. We’re going to drive your negatives up and very aggressively and publicly litigate your record before the citizens of Kentucky.”
Judd would have a few advantages, including her star power and the fact that she doesn’t have a “record” to litigate.
Also, the power of being a celebrity can’t be underestimated in a culture where younger voters can become obsessed with the rich and famous.
But Judd would also be running in a state with a strong Republican presence.
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Five of the six U.S House representatives from Kentucky are Republicans, including Senators McConnell and Paul. In the general election, Mitt Romney won Kentucky easily, with 60.5 percent of the vote.
However, Kentucky has a governor who is a Democrat, and there are many more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.
According to the state, 1.7 million registered voters were Democrats in November, compared with 1.2 registered Republicans. So Democrats make up 55 percent of all registered voters, including voters who aren’t linked to a party.
Also, Steve Beshear, the Democrat who is Kentucky’s governor, can’t run in 2015 due to the state’s term limits law.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of Constitution Daily.