A Judd victory isn’t impossible. Candidate quality makes a difference in statewide races, and Judd could “out-Kentucky and out-country” a detached Washington insider like Mitch McConnell, as one Kentucky political operative put it. And as imperfect as Judd is, it’s important not to understate McConnell’s weaknesses. According to PPP, his approval rating stands at just 37 percent, more than low enough to give hope to a flawed challenger.
But since many of the voters who disapprove of McConnell’s performance are Republicans, he still received 47 percent to Judd’s 43 percent. If that’s an accurate measure of McConnell’s support, Judd’s path to victory is narrow—especially since undecided voters, who lean Republican in Kentucky, don’t know much yet about Judd’s politics. McConnell’s internal polling shows that Judd’s support collapses after voters learn about her positions, with McConnell opening up a 20-point lead. One should be deeply skeptical of leaked internals and polls conducted after message-tests, but it’s plausible enough.
The McConnell campaign and GOP super PACs have already made their strategy known, attacking Judd as a radical Obama-loving, coal-hating carpetbagger—and done so before she’s even announced her candidacy. If she enters the race, the attacks will only worsen. Given the record of liberal Democrats in Kentucky, there’s little reason to be optimistic about her chances. Perhaps Kentuckians will find Judd so charismatic that they’ll embrace her in spite of her liberalism. For Judd to pull that off, she will need, as Molly Redden put it, to “deliver the performance of a lifetime.” And even that might not be enough.