By ROGER ALFORD
FILE – In this Nov. 1, 2008 file photo, actress Ashley Judd, a Kentucky native, speaks at a Democratic get-out-the-vote rally in Louisville, Ky. Judd announced Wednesday she won’t run for U.S. Senate in Kentucky against Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, saying she had given serious thought to a campaign but decided her responsibilities and energy need to be focused on her family. (AP Photo/Brian Bohannon, File)
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Actress Ashley Judd announced Wednesday she won’t run for U.S. Senate in Kentucky against Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, saying she had given serious thought to a campaign but decided her responsibilities and energy need to be focused on her family.
The former Kentucky resident tweeted her decision.
“Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate. I have spoken to so many Kentuckians over these last few months who expressed their desire for a fighter for the people & new leader,” Judd wrote.
“While that won’t be me at this time, I will continue to work as hard as I can to ensure the needs of Kentucky families are met by returning this Senate seat to whom it rightfully belongs: the people & their needs, dreams, and great potential. Thanks for even considering me as that person & know how much I love our Commonwealth. Thank you!”
Her publicist Cara Tripicchio confirmed Judd’s decision.
The 44-year-old Judd had hinted last week that she was nearing a decision about the race.
Now living in suburban Nashville, Tenn., Judd has said little publicly about her intentions. However, she has been meeting with several Democratic leaders, including Gov. Steve Beshear, to discuss a possible run.
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 star of such films as “Double Jeopardy” and “Kiss the Girls” is known for her liberal political views and she would have been running in a largely conservative state where Republicans hold both Senate seats and five of the six seats in the U.S. House.
Former State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, a Judd supporter, said she would have been a strong candidate.
“As a Kentuckian and someone who was really enthusiastic about her as a candidate, this wasn’t the news I was hoping for,” Miller said. “But as her friend, from the first time we talked about the race last summer, I was very candid about the grueling nature of politics. It’s become a very unpleasant business and running against Mitch McConnell would be an extraordinarily difficult and grueling experience.”
McConnell, who spent some $20 million on his last election and who has already raised $10 million for the next one, had already been taunting would-be Democratic challengers in a comical online video intended to raise second thoughts about taking on a politician known as brawler. The video plays on the fact that Judd lives in Tennessee.
Republican-leaning group American Crossroads in its own online video also plays on the Tennessee angle and ties her closely to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky.
University of Louisville political scientist Laurie Rhodebeck said Judd certainly wasn’t frightened out of the race.
“She doesn’t strike me as a shrinking violet,” Rhodebeck said. “I think the real issue would be how much disruption she wanted in her life. This was the kind of thing that she would have to throw herself into 100 percent in order to make it worthwhile.”
Judd and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti separated early this year after marrying in his native Scotland in 2001.
Judd’s decision not to enter the race leaves the Democratic Party in search of a candidate. Many of Kentucky’s top Democrats, including Beshear, have said they won’t run. However, a rising star within the party, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, hasn’t ruled the race out. Grimes declined comment Wednesday evening through her spokeswoman, Lynn Sowards Zellen.
Associated Press writer Janet Cappiello contributed to this report.