FRANKFORT — Now that actress Ashley Judd has ruled out a run for U.S. Senate, Democrats are looking for someone else to take on Republican Mitch McConnell, a merciless campaigner who left his last five challengers politically pummeled.
Several top Democrats have refused, including Gov. Steve Beshear who is widely seen as strongest potential challenger to Kentucky's longest serving U.S. senator in history. Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson has ruled himself out. So have Attorney General Jack Conway and former state Auditor Crit Luallen, as well as a handful of Democratic up-and-comers.
"Everybody is pushing at somebody else," said Democratic strategist Danny Briscoe. "They've all said 'not me, not me, not me, but I know somebody that's good.'"
Of the state's top-elected Democrats, only Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes hasn't ruled out a McConnell challenge, and she's the one that most others are urging to get into the race. So far, Grimes has been coy about her intentions, acknowledging that she's getting lots of encouragement to run but sidestepping questions about whether she will.
Grimes, a rising star within the Kentucky Democratic Party, has continuously traveled the state for speaking engagements since she was elected in 2011, clearly laying the groundwork for higher office. Her spokeswoman, Lynn Sowards Zellen, said Friday that she has nothing to report about Grimes' intentions.
Despite polls showing Beshear is viewed far more favorably than McConnell, the 68-year-old second-term governor has said he doesn't intend to run for any office again. Beshear faced McConnell in 1998 in a bruising campaign that ended in defeat.
"If he wants to kick back and retire, I can't say he's letting us down by not running," Briscoe said. "If he were 60, I might have a different view of that. He would be the strongest candidate the Democrats could run without question, but I also don't second guess his decision to go back to the farm and kick back if that's what he wants to do. He's earned that."