The XX Factor

How Ashley Judd Can Beat Mitch McConnell

Ashley Judd addresses the crowd at a Tennesseans For Obama Benefit in Nashville.

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

The rumors that actress Ashley Judd is considering challenging Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 midterms are heating up, and though the prospect of the matchup might be far-fetched, celebrities have been known to make the leap. But if Judd is serious about transitioning from just rooting for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats to representing them, she doesn’t only need to lock down the money to challenge McConnell: She needs to reframe her image. Here are three things she should do right now:

1. Say goodbye to Hollywood: When Al Franken decided to run for Senate, he was best known for his work on Saturday Night Live. But while his fame gave him name recognition, Franken and his team recognized that his reputation as a funny man wouldn’t necessarily be an asset in a Senate race. As a candidate and as a senator, Franken has basically not talked about his stint in the entertainment industry, and opts to be serious or fire up crowds rather than going for laughs. He made a clean break, and ultimately avoided becoming an extended congressional joke. As the daughter of Naomi and the sister of Wynonna, not to mention the wife of a famous race car driver, shedding the celebrity skin will be harder for Judd. A start would be to not sign up for any more movies: Judd’s IMDb profile shows her last commitment as The Identical, filming in 2013, and her upcoming movie, Olympus Has Fallen, at least has a campaign-friendly plot description: “A former Secret Service agent works to prevent a terrorist attack on the White House.”

2. Get serious about local issues: As a corollary to point one, if Judd is going to de-emphasize her screen work and reestablish her ties to Kentucky, she should keep showing up at University of Kentucky basketball games and focus hard on local issues rather than the national and international ones she’s often advocated for. Her work against mountaintop-removal coal mining is a good start. Wading into the debate over legalizing casino gaming, particularly at Kentucky’s racetracks, would be another good issue to help her establish local bona fides before moving on to the bigger political stage.

3. Call out sexism in policy, not in the media: Even more than for her television show Missingwhich died a relatively quick death earlier this year, Judd made headlines for a searing editorial calling out sexism in media coverage of Hollywood actresses. It was a great piece. But if Judd wants to dive into a race against Mitch McConnell, she should focus on the way that his policies would impact women, and turn a deaf ear to sexist coverage of the race itself. She should paint herself as a champion for women, rather than risk a conversation that would make her look like she can’t take the heat on our behalf.