By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
The most frequent question in the Capitol hallways is “Do you think we’ll get anything done?” The most frequent answer is “No.”
But let’s consider that other hot question: “Is Ashley Judd going to run against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell?”
I don’t know. I DO know what the Kentucky Democratic Party should do: find a credible alternative soon or get behind Judd.
The most credible alternative is Alison Lundergan Grimes, the first-term secretary of state and daughter of the indefatigable former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan. Grimes is popular, attractive, and smart. She loves politics and campaigning. Heck, she was reared on both.
Grimes got more votes than any Democrat in the 2011 statewide campaign for constitutional offices and some tea party activists say they like her — tea party activists who decidedly do NOT like McConnell.
National Democrats believe a woman is the best opponent for McConnell who polls poorly among women. That’s why the names you’ve heard began with Crit Luallen, then Judd and now Grimes. Grimes has little record for McConnell to attack and she hasn’t taken positions on controversial issues which McConnell could exploit.
Lundergan is a proven fundraiser and he’s close to Bill and Hillary Clinton, who could also raise big money and would likely campaign for Grimes.
I don’t believe Grimes will run. My guess is she plans to run for attorney general in 2015. (That would create another rich story line for reporters because rumor is Gov. Steve Beshear’s son, Andy, wants to run, too. Beshear and Lundergan don’t like each other and Lundergan would absolutely revel in such a race).
Grimes says she’s only focused on securing passage of Senate Bill 1, legislation to make it easier for military personnel to vote by absentee ballot. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, made it his top priority before the session began, designating it SB 1.
Then around the time the Grimes camp circulated word that her name should also be included in conversations about 2014, Stivers began to have doubts about allowing military personnel cast ballots by e-mail. Stivers even conceded he’s talked to McConnell about the bill. Coincidence? Probably not. (Stivers’ wife works for McConnell.)
The easiest way for Grimes to dampen any McConnell interest in SB 1 is to declare publicly she’s not interested in the Senate race.
But if Grimes — or some other popular Kentucky Democratic — isn’t going to challenge McConnell, Democrats should get behind Judd and get over her positions on surface mining in her beloved eastern Kentucky.
Judd may be out of step with the average Kentucky Democrat on that issue and a couple of others, but then the average Kentucky Democrat isn’t going to defeat McConnell.
McConnell has already raised more than $7.4 million and will raise a lot more. Should he find himself challenged only by a placeholder Democratic candidate who can’t raise money or pose a serious challenge, McConnell could use some of the excess cash to boost Republican efforts to take over the Kentucky House of Representatives in 2014.
Welcome to Kentucky laws on charter schools, stricter abortion restrictions, right-to-work laws, even more lax enforcement of environmental protections, and more cuts to the state budget if that happens.
Maybe Judd can’t win in a conservative state, but then conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong. Ever hear of Barack Obama?
At least Judd is not an asterisk. Her celebrity and fundraising ability will give ardent Democrats a reason to come out and force McConnell to focus on his own race rather than Republican state House campaigns.
Besides, what other choice do Democrats have?
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.