Ashley Judd Will Have to Launch Charm Offensive to Overcome Liberal Past

In anticipated Senate run, Ashley Judd's liberal background needs to be tempered with personal campaign.

 Actress Ashley Judd speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, Wednesday, June 9, 2010. Judd discussed the controversial practice of mountain top removal coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia.

Actress Ashley Judd has decided not to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat in 2014.

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It's the most anticipated Senate race of 2014 and it doesn't even exist yet.

Ashley Judd has yet to declare if she is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014, but that hasn't stopped her opponents from readying for battle, attacking her record, and laying out the argument she's "way damn too liberal" for Kentucky.

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An acclaimed actress, Judd has a masters in public administration from Harvard. She has a long resume of public service working as an ambassador for YouthAIDS and campaigning on behalf of Democratic candidates, including President Barack Obama. She came out strongly against GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney's 47 percent comment and is strongly pro choice. But it's her protesting against coal that's attracted the most heat in Kentucky where the $4 billion industry supports nearly 20,000 jobs in the state.

In 2010, during a National Press Club luncheon, Judd declared that Kentucky's mountaintop coal mining was "federal government supported, coal industry operated, rape of Appalachia."

"The fact that the Appalachians are the Appalachians makes this environmental genocide possible and permissible," Judd said.

And those friendly to coal in the state have not forgotten her message.

"She is seen by most of us as a long shot," says Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. "Her public statements seem out of step with Kentuckians and that makes her a dark horse candidate."

Bissett argues it's Judd's strong ties to Obama that make her the most vulnerable in a race in coal country. In 2012, Obama managed to win just 4 out of the state's 120 counties.

In Kentucky, many see Obama as enemy number one against the coal industry because of an uptick in federal regulations that have gone into effect on his watch.

"The president will be too heavy for her to carry," Bissett says.

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But others say Judd's charm, name recognition and political savvy could help her overcome her liberal politics in a state with a more conservative Democratic coalition.

"Her comments related to mountaintop coal removing could present problems, but could present a rare opportunity to develop an economic platform that could transform the economy in Appalachia," says Kim Geveden, a Democratic strategist in the state.

Geveden says the coal industry is still powerful, but that the rise of natural gas has put the economy at risk, and Kentuckians might be ready to hear about a more comprehensive strategy for the future. Not to mention, Geveden says Judd's got a lot of other political tricks up her sleeve.

Judd, unlike other candidates who have raced against McConnell in the past, has the name recognition and rolodex to be a big fundraising success.

"McConnell historically is not a likeable guy in the state and he knows that. But he is a smart politician." Geveden says. "He survives by tearing down his opponent. With Ashley, the money game could change."

But experts warn Judd's going to have to launch an aggressive ground game, relocate to Kentucky from Tennessee, where she currently lives, and be ready for a knock-down drag out fight.

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The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already attacked Judd as a carpetbagger sending a letter to supporters this week criticizing her for living in Tennessee, but mulling a challenge in the bluegrass state. And Democratic observers acknowledge Judd will have to work overtime to convince voters she has not lost touch with her Kentucky roots.

"A path to victory does not include New York, Washington and Hollywood. It includes Lexington, Louisville, and Pikeville," says Dale Emmons, a Democratic strategist in Kentucky that has managed campaigns against McConnell before. "This is a place people expect to see you and talk to you."

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