A Roll Call article from last week featured a couple of Kentucky Democratic insiders who at least appeared to suggest that they would rather have Sen. Mitch McConnell go unchallenged by Democrats in 2014 than see him face off against Ashley Judd. Why? The argument is that Judd is so horribly liberal that she will taint other Democratic candidates running that same year for seats in the state legislature, putting the Democrats’ majority in the House at risk. The strong implication — since they have no alternative candidate even close to stepping up — is that such General Assembly candidates will fare better if McConnell goes up against a clunker candidate with no money, or a blank space on the ballot.
Rep. John Yarmuth, a strong backer of a Judd candidacy who thinks she could beat McConnell, tells LEO that their theory on the McConnell race is far off base.
“I think the flaw in that argument is there is really more energy out there interested in unseating Mitch McConnell than there is energy to see him return,” says Yarmuth. “And turnout is going to be a significant factor in any race. There will be far more Democrats turning out in 2014 if Ashley Judd runs than there would be otherwise. So I think it will actually help downballot more than it hurts.”
“You also have some major Democratic constituencies and loyalists who are aching for this fight, and I think it would be totally demoralizing to the people who have been supporting Democratic candidates throughout the state if we don’t put up a vigorous challenge to Mitch.”
But hey, that’s just that wacky and unapologetically Democratic Democrat John Yarmuth talking, right? What does he know about anything outside of the Haight Ashbury coven of Jefferson County?
Actually, if you listen to somebody who’s very experienced at running and winning campaigns all over rural Kentucky, you’ll find out that Yarmuth knows what he’s talking about.
Jonathan Hurst is a veteran Democratic strategist in Kentucky who has run races all over the state, including 15 state legislative races last year. All but two were outside of Jefferson County, and he won 13 of them, including several where it was assumed that Republicans would pick up a seat because the Democratic candidate was “too liberal.”
Hurst strongly dismisses the notion that Democratic state House candidates would fare better with an unfunded clunker of a candidate, or no candidate at all, at the top of the Democratic ticket running against McConnell than with a well-funded candidate featuring an enthusiastic and organized base of support — which he assumes Judd would have despite those scary liberal Democratic positions.
“What I have found in 12 years running House races across Kentucky in nearly every county, is that it always better for the Democratic Party when we have a top of the ticket that is strong, well-funded, and has a strong grassroots organization,” Hurst tells LEO. “Because it’s always better for downballot races when the top of the ticket can make its arguments. It’s better for Kentucky, and it’s better for the Democratic Party.”
“I think allowing the Republicans and Mitch McConnell to go unchecked, and not hold them accountable for voting against VAWA and a number of other key votes, is not good for us. I don’t agree that we should just let them amass a huge war chest and not have to explain and defend their votes, especially those that are against the views of Kentuckians.”
“I think most Kentuckians agree with our Democratic message. And where the Republicans have defeated us at the top of the ticket in years past has always been to define Democrats as the out of step Washington extremists. And I don’t think it’s good for us when we aren’t able to defend ourselves. We should be able to say ‘no, we’re standing up for workers’ rights, education, building a manufacturing economy.’ And I think when you look at that across the board, people agree with that. So we need someone who will stand up and define what our Democratic values in Kentucky are.”
It should be noted that Hurst worked for Alison Lundergan Grimes’ 2011 secretary of state campaign — who is the only other prominent Democrat besides Judd who there is even the remotest whisper of a rumor about running against McConnell. Those whispers have been almost exclusively in articles where Grimes’ name is floated as a potential candidate… and allied Democratic strategists trash the idea of a Judd candidacy.
LEO spoke to one of the much-more veteran Democratic strategists quoted in the Roll Call story, Dale Emmons, who tells LEO that he doesn’t quite go as far as fellow pol Jimmy Cauley did in the article, admitting that Judd on the top of the ballot would be preferable to no candidate or a super-longshot candidate like Ed Marksberry… but only barely. Emmons says he has nothing against Judd… though he did sprinkle in liberal uses of the words “fantasy candidate,” “Tennessean,” “Obama-ize” and “selfish” to describe her.
Emmons insists that Democrats’ choice is not either Judd or nobody, listing off a long list of Democrats who could run for the seat if the specter of Judd’s candidacy would go away. The problem with that argument is that most of the names he listed — like Crit Luallen, Steve Beshear and Jack Conway — have already completely ruled out running and just aren’t going to do so no matter what Judd does, or how much wishful thinking one employs.
He also mentioned Dan Mongiardo — the third time is not a charm, Lt. Dan — and Alison Lundergan Grimes, whom he also worked for in her 2011 race.
I’ll just go ahead and quote this full Emmons rant on who he blames for what he views as the disaster of a potential Judd candidacy, the people in DC who are pushing her to run:
“All of these clowns in Washington – and you can quote me on that, clowns — they’re encouraging Ashley Judd from Tennessee to run for Senate in Kentucky. They don’t need to be deciding who our Senate candidate is. Their economic interests are a conflict of interest. Because they see the dollar signs behind her celebrity, and that’s what they want. I think some of them think we don’t want to beat McConnell. Otherwise they’d be down here recruiting those candidates we talked about. I’m pretty fed up with the folks in Washington. We need more Kentucky thinking in Washington and less Washington thinking in Kentucky.”
But here is the problem with Emmons’ argument, which I shared with him. This argument only works if a candidate steps out in public and says in his or her own words (not their on background ally): “I am seriously considering running for United States Senate against Mitch McConnell, because it’s time to send him into retirement.” If that doesn’t happen, talk of that candidate is pure speculation, and you’re risking a November McConnell vs. Marksberry showdown.
If Crit Luallen said she was seriously interested in running for Senate tomorrow, she’d be a stronger candidate, and the Judd candidacy would disappear overnight.
But this is not going to happen.
If Steve Beshear said he was seriously interested in running for Senate tomorrow, he’d be a stronger candidate, and the Judd candidacy would disappear overnight.
But this is not going to happen.
If Alison Lundergan Grimes said she was seriously interested in running for Senate tomorrow, she’d be a stronger candidate, and the Judd candidacy would disappear… maybe not overnight, but fairly soon.
Whether this happens is totally up to her.
In the meantime, trashing Ashley Judd to national media outlets without a ready and viable alternative does absolutely no one any good but Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party. That choice is up to you, fellas.
In the meantime, Yarmuth gave these words of advice to any prominent Democrat who seriously considers refraining from supporting Ashley Judd if she is the Democratic nominee for Senate against McConnell (Emmons swears he would support her, which I believe) and thinks that being the anti-Judd Democrat will help triangulate their way into frontrunner status in a crowded field of candidates for a constitutional office in 2015:
“I think there is a risk for a Democrat who basically fights against a lot of their constituents, because that’s what they’ll be doing.” says Yarmuth. “If any Democrat is perceived as undermining a challenge to Mitch McConnell, they’re going to suffer for it. Because there are so many Democrats out there who want to get rid of Mitch. I would not want to be seen as somebody who in any way minimizes or diminishes the possibility that you can challenge Mitch.”