FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, facing a potential challenge from actress Ashley Judd and taking no chances even with his re-election more than 18 months away, is poised to begin airing his first TV and radio ads.
McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton confirmed "the six figure" ad buy on Tuesday.
That the Kentucky Republican is opting to run the TV spot and an accompanying radio ad so early in his 2014 campaign caught the eye of Democrats, who moved to paint it as a sign that he's worried about his chances.
Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon charged that launching an ad campaign so early "is an unprecedented admission of fear."
"Kentuckians would prefer to see our leaders working to solve the nation's problems instead of spending all their energy campaigning in non-election years," Logsdon said in a statement.
University of Louisville political scientist Laurie Rhodebeck said she doubts that McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, is scared.
"Concerned might be a better way to put it," Rhodebeck said. "Given some of the commentary that's been in the media the last couple of months, he'd sound foolish if he said he wasn't concerned. He's a good politician. He wants people to think he's taking his job seriously."
Rhodebeck said the rationale for the early ad buy also could be "to frighten the opposition, to perhaps convince supporters, especially financial backers, that McConnell's still got what it takes and that's where their money should go."
McConnell can easily afford the ad buy, having already raised more than $10 million. In his last financial disclosure, he reported having $7.4 million on hand. That financial cushion gives McConnell the option to go up on TV early.
McConnell has been trying to head off a GOP primary challenge by cozying up to the tea party. He's also trying to scare off potential Democratic contenders by providing a glimpse of his no-holds-barred political tactics.
The strategy seems to be working, so far. No serious Republican challenger has emerged. Democrats haven't fielded a candidate yet, though Judd, a former Kentucky resident who lives in Tennessee, is considering a run. She would need to re-establish a residence in Kentucky before she could challenge McConnell.
Defeating McConnell would be the Democrats' biggest prize of the 2014 election. His seat is one of 14 that Republicans are defending while Democrats try to hold onto 21, hoping to retain or add to their 55-45 edge.
The 71-year-old McConnell, first elected to the Senate in 1984, is a resilient politician with an unbroken string of victories and a reputation for pummeling opponents. He's taking no chances even with an election more than a year away.
McConnell already has been taunting would-be Democratic challengers in a comical online video intended to raise second thoughts about taking him on.
The video shows Judd, who has a home in the Nashville, Tenn., suburbs, saying "Tennessee is home" and that San Francisco is "my American city home." It also shows some of Kentucky's leading Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Adam Edelen, saying they won't run against McConnell.
Judd has been discussing the prospects of challenging McConnell with Democratic leaders, including Gov. Steve Beshear. Her interest has other Democrats sitting on the sidelines until she makes a decision.