A news report released on November 30, 2012, featured Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell stating his intentions to seek re-election to a sixth term in 2014. “I’m running. Read my lips, I’m running,” he said.
McConnell's re-election prospects looked grim as of the following January, when Politico reported that an unholy alliance had formed between individual, organizational Democratic entities and tea party activists bent on his defeat. According to the report, a coalition of influential Democratic individuals and organizations would offer strategic assistance to a tea party candidate willing to challenge McConnell in the Republican primary election. Even if McConnell survives the primary challenge, the Democrats reason, it will weaken him for battle in the general election. The Democratic party already has a voter registration advantage in Kentucky, and party members involved in the strategy believe that by lending financial and organizational support to a formidable Republican primary candidate, they can truly maximize their chances of electing a Democrat to the U.S. Senate seat. "What we’re finding — at least in this stage of the race — we’re finding that our interests align. It’s unusual," said Keith Rouda, a field organizer with the liberal group MoveOn and the Democratic super PAC, Progress Kentucky.
In 2008, McConnell won re-election to a fifth term and became Kentucky's longest serving senator. McConnell spent approximately $20 million on his last election, beating Democrat Bruce Lunsford, a Kentucky businessman, by 6 percentage points.
TheTeaParty.net, a national tea party group, declared in May 2013 its support for incumbent McConnell in his 2014 re-election bid. The endorsement will help him defend himself as some tea party activists are searching for a primary challenger against him during his 2014 re-election campaign.
Niger Innis, the chief strategist of TheTeaParty.net said, “With the new revelations that the IRS has been targeting Tea Party groups, we need Sen. McConnell more than ever. He was sounding the alarm about the government’s assault on our First Amendment rights years ago, even when it fell on deaf ears. We all owe Sen. McConnell a debt for his vision and courage.”
Primary challenge for McConnell
On July 19, 2013, reports circulated that Matt Bevin, an investment executive based in Louisville who had been weighing the possibility of a Republican primary challenge against incumbent Mitch McConnell, booked ads in the Louisville market and had also begun reserving time in Bowling Green.
In a statement, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton dismissed Matt Bevin's campaign as a minor irritant. “Matthew Griswold Bevin is not a Kentucky Conservative, he is merely an East Coast con man. While it is sad to see someone who claims to be a Republican doing Barack Obama’s bidding, his campaign is nothing more than a nuisance,” Benton said.
Prior to his official announcement, Bevin spoke with leaders of at least three national right-leaning advocacy groups: the Club for Growth, the Jim DeMint-founded Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project, a small-government group chaired by former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun.
Bevin officially announced his candidacy on July 24, 2013, at the state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky. From there, he began a three day tour with eight campaign stops scheduled. Bevin is a political newcomer, but is thought to have significant wealth to use against incumbent McConnell in the primary.
Actress Ashley Judd reportedly was considering a run against McConnell in 2014. Judd reportedly spoke with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) about the possibility of a run, and discussed a potential bid with a Democratic pollster and began to conduct opposition research on herself to see where she’s most vulnerable in the state.
Initially, whether Judd jumped into the race remained far from certain. She was also reportedly weighing whether to wait until 2016 to instead take on freshman Sen. Rand Paul. If Judd eventually does become a candidate, she would be the biggest celebrity to run for the U.S. Senate since Al Franken’s successful 2008 bid for the Minnesota seat.
In early March 2013, reports circulated of Judd meeting with well-financed Democratic donors and venturing to Washington D.C for more public engagements. According to Don Peebles, Chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corporation, a member of President Obama's National Finance Committee, and Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a Judd run is likely much more than a Hollywood fantasy.
Peebles stated, "There looks to be a lot of noise around her running and she's been active in commenting on politics of the day so it is certainly possible. Senate Minority Leader McConnell's approval ratings are low, and a lot of reports show that he is vulnerable to a challenge. While Kentucky leans right, it is not as conservative as most of its neighbors and the voters of Kentucky may be looking to send a message that they don't feel fairly represented by Minority Leader McConnell."
Decision not to runOn March 27, 2013, Judd announced via Twitter that she will not run for Senate in 2014. In the tweet, she announced her decision stating, “After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family."
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- Politico, "Democrats, tea party unite vs. Mitch McConnell," January 28, 2013
- Fox News "Ashley Judd running for Senate in Kentucky?" accessed February 15, 2013
- Politico "Targeted Tea Party Group Endorses Mitch McConnell" accessed May 14, 2013
- Politico "Possible GOP opponent to Mitch McConnell books airtime" accessed July 22, 2013
- Politico "Matt Bevin meets with conservative groups" accessed July 24, 2013
- Politico "Ashley Judd exploring Senate run" accessed February 15, 2013
- NY Daily News "Ashley Judd could give Mitch McConnell serious run for money in possible Kentucky Senate race: poll" accessed February 15, 2013
- My Fox DC "Source: Ashley Judd moving forward with run for Mitch McConnell's Senate seat in Kentucky" accessed March 8, 2014
- Twitter "Ashley Judd" accessed March 28, 2013
- Washington Post "Ashley Judd is not running for Senate" accessed March 28, 2013