FRANKFORT — Actress Ashley Judd will not run for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's seat in next year's election, she announced Wednesday.
Judd, a native Kentuckian who now lives in Tennessee, shows up frequently at University of Kentucky basketball games.
"Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate," she postedWednesday afternoon on Twitter.
"I have spoken to so many Kentuckians over these last few months who expressed their desire for a fighter for the people & new leader.
"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!"
McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, said McConnell had no reaction to Judd's comments. McConnell, the Senate's Republican leader and the longest-serving U.S. senator in Kentucky history, became a U.S. senator in January 1985.
Judd's potential campaign created excitement and trepidation among Kentucky and national Democrats, who split on her electability.
Supporters said her national profile and fundraising ability would ensure McConnell's demise, but others worried that her outspoken liberal views, especially on issues such as her opposition to mountaintop-removal coal mining, would doom her and other Democrats further down the ticket.
Former state Treasurer Jonathan Miller of Lexington said Judd called him earlier "to give me a heads-up. She first wanted to apologize for not running, but she has absolutely nothing to apologize for."
Miller said he told Judd about a year ago, when she was considering the race, that "politics is brutal, and running against McConnell would be a grueling experience."
Judd did tell him, Miller said, that she "plans to re-engage with Kentucky, and I think she would support whoever our candidate is. I can tell you this is not the last we've heard from Ashley Judd."
In recent weeks, news reports have mentioned the possibility of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes running against McConnell.
Those reports have said Grimes has a relatively blank political slate but with deep political ties: Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is a former state Democratic Party chairman and is a close friend of former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Grimes has remained mum about her political aspirations. Lynn Zellen, a spokeswoman for Grimes, said Grimes has no comment on Judd's decision.
State Auditor Adam Edelen said he was "shocked" by Judd's decision — "All indicators were she would run," he said — but "most of the conversation now revolves around Alison Lundergan Grimes. Attention should focus on her because she is so talented."
Stephen George, spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, said Yarmuth was disappointed by Judd's decision, "but he is confident the Democrats will field a strong candidate against McConnell, who is at present the least popular candidate in the Senate." In past interviews, Yarmuth has said that Lundergan Grimes would also make a strong candidate.
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday that he preferred Grimes over Judd. Stumbo's comments came several hours before Judd announced that she was not going to run.
If the Democratic Party could pick," Stumbo said, it "would probably pick Alison Lundergan Grimes because they know her."
Stumbo said he knew that national Democratic Party leaders spoke to Grimes about taking on newly-elected U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican, next year.
Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said he respects Judd's "deeply held beliefs but, upon reflection, they are quite liberal and really don't mesh well with those of most Kentuckians."
Democratic Party consultant Dale Emmons said he hopes Kentucky Democrats will find a candidate "who will keep the focus on McConnell's record.
"He's trying to reinvent himself as Henry Clay the compromiser when he tears things down."
Emmons said that he thinks Grimes would be an excellent candidate but that she has never said she's going to run.
State Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Logsdon could not be immediately reached for comment.