But the GOP opposition research machine is already in full froth over what it views as perhaps the juiciest 2014 target: Ashley Judd, who is exploring a challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Republicans are homing in with glee on the actress and activist, picking apart her views and statements and compiling a thick compendium of speeches, writings and tweets. What they found: Judd may not have a legislative record, but she has left quite a paper trail.
This early opposition research effort seems as much about scaring Democrats nationally about a Judd candidacy as informing Kentuckians before Judd even decides to make the race.
"Ms. Judd has a bit of a habit of making bizarre comments and observations that will put Democratic officials and candidates across the country in uncomfortable positions," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. "As for Kentucky, well let's just say that Ms. Judd's comments are outlandish for Hollywood, never mind Covington."
The latest of Judd's unorthodox views to rise to the surface courtesy of the GOP is a 2006 statement about why she doesn't have children -- which Republicans say will not sit well in Kentucky. "It's unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries," Judd said. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who has been advising Judd, said that the actress was speaking for herself, and added that people in Kentucky understand the word "breeding."
In a disjointed talk at George Washington University Friday, Judd, 44, may have given her opponents more fodder by referencing U2 rocker Bono, her dog being on a hunger strike and her extravagant travels. "We winter in Scotland. We're smart like that," she told students.
"She's well aware of what might get thrown at her,"said Yarmuth, who believes Judd is going to enter the campaign and can withstand the heat.
"She is going to get so much free publicity, and she will have plenty of opportunity to define who she is on her own terms. And it might be a bit risky for Mitch to go after her in a nasty way -- she's very likable."
But free publicity can cut both ways, and there's some evidence the GOP effort is hitting its target in portraying her as an Hollywood elitist. In addition to her liberal positions on social issues, Judd's anti-coal stance in a coal-mining state has gotten wide attention. Kentucky Public Radio recently published a survey of 14 Democratic state legislators, many of whom were skeptical that Judd was the right choice to beat McConnell.
"I mean, she's got some issues that would hurt her up in Eastern Kentucky," Democratic state Rep. Walter Blevins told the radio station. House Speaker Greg Stumbo was blunt: "Given her position on mining, it would probably be a race that Democrats like myself would have trouble supporting her."
Noted a McConnell campaign adviser, who asked not to be named: "We truly believe that if she were to run, her candidacy would have the capacity to be the liberal Democrat version of Todd Akin for the rest of the Democratic candidates running in '14."
Nonetheless, Judd is a big-name celebrity who would have no trouble raising Hollywood money and drawing attention to the race. But beyond that, party sources refuse to talk about her intentions.
Judd's recent visits to Washington to meet with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and senators have been handled like a state secret. On Friday, she ignored questions shouted from reporters about whether she would run. In Kentucky, she has quietly spoken with some establishment Democrats and labor leaders, called state legislators and conferred with the Democratic governor. She is being informally advised by Democrat heavyweights Anita Dunn and J.B. Poersch, neither of whom responded to a request for comment.
McConnell strategists said the campaign is well aware that it has to walk a fine line between defining Judd negatively and appearing nasty. Privately, senior advisers say they were dismayed that Karl Rove -- himself a controversial figure -- chose to produce an online ad recently, ridiculing Judd as an "Obama following radical Hollywood liberal." By comparison, McConnell's first Web ad was a humorous riff on how the Democrats have been unable to find a candidate to run against McConnell, and it included a clip of Judd saying that Tennessee -- not Kentucky -- was home.
A number of state Democrats have passed on opposing McConnell, 71, next year, appreciating that it will be one of the most intense and expensive races in the country. Despite his weak approval ratings in the state presently, McConnell retains a strong organization there. Recent polls have shown Judd holding her own against the Senate minority leader, but that's before any real attention has been focused on her.
"He's vulnerable. It's doable -- but it's still a tough one," says one Democratic operative involved in advising Judd.
An adviser to the McConnell campaign said the operation's guiding light is a statement Judd made in Britain six years ago about running for office, noting that "such an unguarded chunk of my truth is very likely to completely disqualify me."
"The real highlights for Kentucky purposes," said the adviser, "are her conceptions of the relationships between men and women and family life, and her views on coal and the Obama agenda at large. This is a state where the president only carried four of 120 counties. They really dislike this president, who she spent countless hours stumping for on television."
Judd was born and raised in Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky, but hasn't lived in the state for years. She currently lives in Tennessee and would have to establish residency in Kentucky this year to run in 2014.
The GOP airing of her past statements seem designed to separate Judd from the red state's more traditional voters. Republicans also point to writings on her own website, one a published speech where she suggests it's sexist for men to walk their daughters down the aisle "'giving her away to her husband," and takes women to task for adopting their husbands' names after they marry. And her detractors raise questions about whether someone with Judd's celebrity has the patience and tenacity to commit to the grueling and unglamorous work of a tough state campaign.
"There are 120 counties in Kentucky and 120 Lincoln Day dinners to attend," said one McConnell ally. "Is she really going to do that?"
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