The senior senator from Kentucky isn't as weak as his poll numbers indicate
After all the hype her theoretical campaign produced, actress Ashley Judd announced Wednesday that she would not challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for his seat in 2014.
The announcement leaves Kentucky Democrats without a prime candidate to oppose McConnell, as many other potential contenders have also declined to get in the ring. The Democratic Party's reluctance comes despite the fact that McConnell has earned the ignominious title of least popular senator in the country.
Months ago, McConnell's miserable approval rating had both Democrats and Tea Party activists excited about their odds of unseating him. A December survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that 55 percent of Kentucky voters disapproved of his job performance, the worst mark for any senator the company had polled. In another poll from January, only 17 percent of respondents said they'd vote for him next year, and just one-third of Republicans.
So why did Judd, after all that hype, join the other candidates on the sidelines?
"After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family," Judd wrote in a series of tweets on Wednesday. "Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate."
However, Judd's decision to bow out suggests that McConnell, though not necessarily popular, remains relatively strong. PPP's poll showed that he still led every potential Democratic challenger he was pitted against.
"The reason McConnell does decently well in the head to head matchups despite his poor approval numbers is that even though a lot of Republicans dislike him, most of them would still vote for him in a general election before they would support a Democrat," PPP's Tom Jensen wrote.
The state backed Mitt Romney by a 23-point margin over President Obama last year, and elected Sen. Rand Paul (R) in 2010 by an 11-point margin.
A promised threat from McConnell's right is similarly in doubt. Democrats have said they'd help Tea Party activists launch a primary challenge, but no candidate has emerged. One potential challenger was caught lying about his ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
McConnell has courted Tea Party leaders and politicians to head off that effort, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped raise $230,000 for his campaign at an event Monday. Paul has also indicated that he would support him.
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