The list: Grimes, not Judd, offers most advantages for Democrats against McConnell

11/11/2012 06:21 PM

2013 in Kentucky might be the off-season for elections. But it’s prime time for speculation about the next three years worth of campaigns that include both U.S. Senate seats, the governorship and other statewide offices.

First up, Democrats say they will put up a viable candidate against McConnell in 2014. But they’re going to need to hurry as McConnell has a $10 million headstart in fund-raising.

Here is a look at the pros and cons of some of the potential candidates:


Alison Lundergan Grimes

Political experience: Secretary of State, January 2012 – present
Interest in running: Grimes told Pure Politics two weeks ago that she was receiving encouragement and hadn’t ruled it out.
Why she makes the best candidate:
First, Grimes has the same reporter-frustrating ability to stick to her talking points that McConnell has and is equally as unlikely to make a major misstep. Grimes, who is about to turn 34, also offers the demographic contrast with McConnell that Democrats want. She is a diligent campaigner who wouldn’t be out-worked. She has good political finger-tips and unlike some of the other Democrats being mentioned, she hasn’t alienated blocs of Democrats with her positions on coal. Plus, the Lundergan family’s close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton opens the door to a national fundraising network and big-name Democratic surrogates who remain popular in many quarters of Kentucky. Grimes wouldn’t have to give up her current job as Secretary of State and, if she loses in 2014, could still run for re-election in 2015 or run for attorney general. And, if she starts as the overwhelming underdog and puts up a respectable showing even in a loss, she has the ability to raise her profile even by coming up short.

Biggest downside:
If she lost and wanted to run for a second term as secretary of state, she essentially would be campaigning for three straight years. There’s also a risk of irreparable damage. McConnell doesn’t just defeat opponents, he generally goes for the political jugular. (See Sloane, Harvey, in 1990). Of course, while McConnell handily defeated Steve Beshear in 1996, Beshear revived his political career 11 years later.

Ashley Judd

Interest level — Judd hasn’t ruled it out, as the Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth reported. And she expressed interest in one day running for office while on a panel at the Democratic National Convention, as Politico reported.
Political Experience: None
Advantages: Judd, 44, would be one of the few candidates who could start with nearly 100 percent name recognition and a built-in fundraising network with her Hollywood ties. Plus, she would offer a contrast to McConnell both in philosophy and demographics. And she has been a public advocate for military veterans and their families.
Disadvantages: She certainly would make the race entertaining. And while that’s key for her current occupation, it might not help in the eventual vote totals. McConnell will exploit Judd’s numerous public statements about issues like mountaintop removal mining to paint her as being too liberal for Kentucky. She hasn’t lived in Kentucky for years – instead making her home in Nashville and working in Hollywood. That’s ripe for McConnell to seize on especially after Judd’s last show was called “Missing.” And her connections to the UK basketball program are a mixed bag. Many comments on UK fan sites about Judd haven’t been glowing.

Jerry Abramson

Political Experience: Lieutenant Governor, Jan. 2012 – present; Louisville Mayor, 1985-1998 and Louisville Metro Mayor, 2002-2010.
Interest level – In interviews with Pure Politics and the Courier-Journal since Tuesday’s election, Abramson has been non-committal about his political future saying it’s too early because he has only been in his current job for 10 months.
Advantages: He brings a base of loyalists from Louisville and the high name recognition of a public official who has spent nearly 30 years in politics. Abramson would have the support of many in Gov. Steve Beshear’s network.
Disadvantages: Abramson, 66, doesn’t give Democrats the fresh new candidate they would like most. He brings a long record for McConnell to chew on and may have even won out his welcome with some Louisville voters after serving so long as mayor. Most of all, he would be tagged with the “Louisville mayor” and “liberal” labels (see: gun control) that have doomed candidates in the past.

Matthew Barzun

Political Experience: National fundraising chairman for Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign; U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, Aug. 2009- Oct. 2011
Interest level – Declined to comment to the Courier-Journal
Advantages: With a background as an entrepreneur and businessman, Barzun, 42, offers a contrast in resumes with McConnell, who has been in the Senate since 1985 and in public office since 1978. Plus, Barzun, who married into the powerful Brown family, has proven he can raise money to keep up with Kentucky’s most prolific fundraiser of all time.
Disadvantages: Those who have been stuck with a tag of “Louisville liberals” haven’t fared well in U.S. Senate races. Barzun would be tied to Obama more than any other potential candidate, which could be an even bigger negative during a mid-term election for the second-term president who is unpopular in Kentucky. And Barzun would be a rookie candidate. The phrase “baptism by fire” isn’t strong enough to encapsulate what he would be walking into against McConnell.

Greg Fischer

Political Experience: Louisville Mayor, Jan. 2011 – present; Candidate for Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008.
Interest level – Hasn’t said one way or the other but did seek the Democratic nomination to run against McConnell in 2008
Advantages: As a well-to-do former business owner, Fischer can invest some of his personal fortune in a race, although not nearly to the level of what Bruce Lunsford did against McConnell in 2008.
Disadvantages: Fischer, 54, hasn’t rocked the boat in Louisville. But he doesn’t have a ton in the way of public policy accomplishments to point to yet. Being the mayor of Louisville isn’t much of an advantage in a statewide race. In fact, it’s been a detriment in the past.

Others unlikely to run:

Ben Chandler — He initially told the Courier-Journal he wouldn’t be interested in running for U.S. Senate but told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Friday that all options are on the table for his future. Running against McConnell, however, wouldn’t be the easiest way to pick himself off the mat after being unseated for Congress.

John Yarmuth – He has devoted a lot of time to talking about finding someone to challenge McConnell, but hasn’t expressed interest in making the run himself. TV stations could make a bundle by putting McConnell-Yarmuth debates on pay-per-view. But Yarmuth, who was just elected to his fourth term in Congress from Louisville, is arguably more liberal than anyone else on the list and would find it difficult to garner much support outside of urban areas.

Those passing on the race:
Steve Beshear – Beshear couldn’t have been any clearer in an October 2011 interview with Pure Politics that his re-election would be his last race.
Gill Holland – The Louisville businessman told the Courier-Journal’s Joe Gerth he’s not interested.
Adam Edelen – He has his eyes on another office: governor.
Jack Conway – Has said since last December he would consider running for governor but not U.S. Senate in 2014
Crit Luallen – The former state auditor has repeatedly said she’s not interested in the U.S. Senate and is looking at running for governor.


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