When the National Republican Senatorial Committee posted a mock fundraising letter for Ashley Judd’s anticipated Kentucky Senate campaign, they made fun of the 44-year-old actress for many things: Her summer home in Scotland, her status as a 2012 Tennessee delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and her condemnation of Christianity as a religion that “legitimizes and seals male power.”
One thing the NRSC didn’t mention: Judd’s history of serious mental illness. In a 2006 interview, Judd recounted how she “spent years battling depression,” Laurie Sandell of Glamour magazine reported, describing the 47 days Judd spent in treatment at Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas, where the actress’s sister, country singer Wynona Judd also underwent treatment. Judd described growing up in an environment of “complete and total chaos … a state of disarray and dysfunction,” so that “ I was clinically depressed at the age of eight.”
The Glamour article portrayed Judd’s mental-health issues in a positive light, but it could prove a liability if she enters the Kentucky 2014 race as a Democratic challenger to Sen. Mitch McConnell. In 1972, Democrats dumped Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton as George McGovern’s vice-presidential running mate after it was revealed that Eagleton had a history of treatment for depression, including shock therapy.
One poll in December showed Judd as a good potential match-up against McConnell. Saturday, Howard Fineman at Huffington Post reported that Judd has begun organizing a campaign — hiring a pollster, working interviewing media consultants and potential staff — with an eye toward announcing her candidacy in early May.
Even if Kentucky voters have no problem voting for a candidate with admitted psychiatric problems, Judd’s outspoken advocacy of abortion and her penchant for controversial statements could prove major hindrances to her political prospects. Coal mining is a major industry in Kentucky, but in 2010 Judd condemned mountaintop removal, the most common surface mining method, as “the state-sanctioned, federal government-supported, coal industry-operated rape of Appalachia.” Judd also claimed that purchasing Apple products is “financing mass rape” and helps “support slavery.” Last year, after pro-life Republican Rick Santorum ended his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, Judd starred in a video mocking Santorum and comparing his campaign to an abortion.
The most formidable obstacle to Judd’s Senate campaign, however, will be the strong Republican trend among Kentucky voters, as Nate Cohn of the liberal New Republic wrote Monday: “Kentucky is not kind to Democrats seeking a seat in Congress—not even conservative Democrats who do well at the state level. The party hasn’t won a federal, statewide race in the state since 1996, when Bill Clinton took 46 percent of the vote in a three-way race.”