By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — Democratic state House Sen. Greg Stumbo said Thursday he thinks actress Ashley Judd will be “a formidable” opponent should she choose to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014.
McConnell’s campaign manager responded by accusing Stumbo of “naked partisanship.”
Stumbo and Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, revealed Thursday that Judd had sought to contact each of them about a meeting to discuss such a race.
McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, is expected to be a major target for the national Democratic Party when he seeks election to his sixth term in 2014.
But several prominent Kentucky Democrats have been reluctant to make the race in a conservative state, some because they have their eyes on state offices in the 2015 elections.
Judd has attracted national attention because of her celebrity, name recognition and presumed ability to raise significant money for the campaign and to energize loyal Democrats both inside and outside of Kentucky.
But some Kentucky Democrats — and McConnell’s campaign — point to Judd’s opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining as a negative she’d have to overcome to win votes in eastern Kentucky.
In the past, Stumbo has echoed those comments.
But Stumbo sounded more enthusiastic Thursday.
“Ashley Judd, if she chooses to get into this race, will make a formidable candidate by the time the race is over,” Stumbo said. “I am convinced of that. Because obviously, Mitch McConnell is being viewed as the father of gridlock, the master of what’s wrong in Washington and people know that now.”
Stumbo said Judd is a “fresh face” and his impression is that she’s “a problem-solver,” but he thinks she needs to adjust her views on coal and coal mining.
He said he and Judd still haven’t spoken as they have traded return phone calls but, like Clark, Stumbo said he is willing to meet with her and encourage her to consider taking on McConnell.
Stumbo said he’d like to show her his residential subdivision in Floyd County which is located on a reclaimed mountaintop removal site and a joint state-private project to construct a highway through a mountaintop removal site, saving the state substantial costs.
“When you look at them from a distance sometime they don’t look the same as when you look at them up close,” Stumbo said.
He said Judd will have no difficulty in raising money or in generating excitement among voters. And he said she won’t be as much of a drag on conservative Democrats in state House races as McConnell will be for Republicans in those same races.
“Mitch McConnell will drag the Republicans down in much the same manner, in my opinion, perhaps as much as the president did in this last race,” Stumbo said, referring to the unpopularity in Kentucky of Barack Obama.
Then Stumbo really warmed to his subject.
McConnell is “Doctor Doom; he’s the father of gridlock,” Stumbo said. “Any man who calls himself a United States senator, who makes his first and highest priority being that an American president would fail and not be re-elected, is a man who doesn’t deserve the title of United States senator.”
McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, zeroed in on one of Judd’s perceived vulnerabilities in coal producing Kentucky.
“If we wait enough, Speaker Stumbo may oppose and then support just about anybody if his political party runs out of options,” Benton said in an email. “I guess he decided that protecting coal country takes a back seat to naked partisanship.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.