Actress Ashley Judd won praise from the highest ranking Democrat in Kentucky's state Legislature on Thursday, the latest chapter in ongoing speculation about Judd preparing to mount a Democratic Senate challenge against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Speaking to reporters, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo expressed optimism about the potential strength of a Judd campaign, which she's said she'll make a final decision about before the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
"Ashley Judd, if she chooses to get into this race, will be a formidable candidate by the time the race is over. I'm convinced of that," Stumbo said, according to WKU Public Radio.
Stumbo hasn't spoken with Judd yet, but he said he'd urge her to jump in the race when he did.
"I'm going to encourage her as I would any other candidate that this is a winnable race -- this guy is vulnerable," Stumbo said, speaking of polls that have shown low levels of support for McConnell's reelection. "And not only the race winnable and is he vulnerable but America needs for him to go. Kentucky needs for him to go."
Last year, Stumbo had appeared critical of Judd's chances in Kentucky, citing her vocal opposition to mountaintop coal mining, a common practice in the state. On Thursday, he maintained that the race would be difficult for Judd, in part because of those views.
Stumbo's reversal drew pushback from McConnell spokesman Jesse Benton.
“If we wait enough, Speaker Stumbo may oppose and then support just about anybody if his political party runs out of options," he said. "I guess he decided that protecting coal country takes a back seat to naked partisanship.”
While Stumbo may have changed his mind about Judd, WFPL spoke with a number of Kentucky Democrats earlier this week and found many of them to be only lukewarm on the prospect of a Judd candidacy. But other Democrats, including U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Gov. Steve Beshear, have said the state should take Judd very seriously if she decides to run.
The latest sign of approval for Judd comes after a busy month for the actress and liberal activist. In February, Judd held meetings with top Kentucky political figures and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Judd is kicking off March with a weekend speaking tour in Washington, D.C. On Friday, she'll deliver a speech on women's reproductive health at George Washington University.