Ashley Judd Would Have Lost to Mitch McConnell

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor of National Review and the author of “The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.”
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(This is a response to Margaret Carlson's column.)

Unlike you, Margaret, I think Ashley Judd's decision not to run against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is good news for the Democrats -- if bad news for political journalists.

The Democrats' zeal to take out McConnell has some partisan history behind it. When Senator John Thune beat Tom Daschle in the South Dakota Senate race in 2004, it was the first time a Senate party leader had lost since the 1950s. Democrats regretted all their defeats that year, but that one particularly stung. Ever since, both parties have tried to add to their scalp collection.

In 2010, Republicans desperately wanted to take out Daschle's successor, Harry Reid of Nevada, but failed when their nomination went to Sharron Angle. (She's the one, you'll recall, who mused about "Second Amendment remedies" for Reid's baleful influence.) In 2014, Democrats would love for McConnell to go the way of Daschle.

A few polls have shown him with low approval ratings in Kentucky. Most of the state's top-tier Democrats have turned down the chance to run against him, though, and so the actress Ashley Judd was considering a run. Republicans thought she would be the Democrats' Sharron Angle because she took positions far to the left of Kentuckians. The fact that Judd also lives in Tennessee made them like her prospective candidacy even more.

McConnell, meanwhile, might be theoretically vulnerable from the right -- some of those low approval ratings surely come from conservatives who think he is not confrontational enough against President Barack Obama, hard as that is for liberals to believe. McConnell has, however, worked hard to prevent any primary challenge. In 2010, Senator Rand Paul beat McConnell's hand-picked candidate in the primary in 2010. The two have since become allies. McConnell has hired Paul's campaign manager and supported Paul's filibuster last month.

So McConnell looks safe. Even better from his perspective, a lot of Democrats elected in red states during their party's wave year of 2008 are now up for re-election and can't say the same thing.

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