Ashley Judd seemed acutely aware of the presence of reporters at an address at George Washington University Friday, but dodged their questions about a possible run for a U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky, as speculation surrounding her potential bid heats up.
Speaking to a room filled with mostly female college students and a handful of press, the actress and activist elaborated on her back-story in a brief, extemporaneous speech that was heavily peppered with references to her Kentucky upbringing.
Judd grew up in Kentucky, but lives in Tennessee. That fact was highlighted in a recent attack ad from Karl Rove's American Crossroads group, and has been a main complaint of Democrats skeptical of her potential challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Finance: Lawmakers scramble to avoid shutdown | Why some Republicans worry about Trump's tax plan | Trade tensions with Canada Hundreds of former EPA employees blast Trump on climate change Democrats must have a better response on net neutrality than simply 'no' MORE, who express concern that it will disqualify her in the eyes of Kentucky voters.
In addition to frequent references to her home state, Judd seemed acutely aware of the press in the back of the room.
“I’m a lot more nervous than y’all are. There are people here who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about public health," she said in response to one anxious questioner, noting, at another point “the elephant in the room.”
She did not, however, address the question of her run with reporters after the talk. Judd ignored questions shouted by a handful of assembled press, offering only, “Thank you for being here, thank you for your interest in public health" as she walked out.
Judd gave the talk, billed as “Progress and Perspectives: Women’s Reproductive Health, a conversation with Ashley Judd,” under the shadow of her possible challenge to McConnell in what could be the nation's most talked-about Senate race in the 2014 cycle.
Despite skepticism from Democrats in Kentucky, she is making the necessary steps to launch a bid — meeting with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington and potential donors in Kentucky and reaching out to elected officials in the state.
Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthTrump becomes wild card in spending fight House Democrat introduces bill to amend presidential removal procedures CBO: Budget deficits, debt to reach record highs in 30 years MORE (D-Ky.), who has been a vocal supporter of Judd since speculation began, recently said that he "would be surprised if she didn't run." Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) said on Thursday he would encourage her to run when next he speaks with her.
Judd has begun to feel the increased scrutiny that comes with running for public office, most recently in a report from D.C. political site the Daily Caller that chronicled some of what it called her "bizarre comments" in the past.
The report was circulated by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring circulated the post to reporters, suggesting in an email to The Hill that her "truly bizarre statements...could be a problem, not just for her perspective campaign, but for Democrats across the country who would be forced to explain her strange views."
However, Judd seemed unfazed by the recent scrutiny, and frankly addressed her own rape and difficulty with faith to the assembled audience.
“I'm a three-time survivor of rape, and about that I have no shame, because it was never my shame to begin with—it was the perpetrator's shame,” she said.
On God, Judd noted that though she's experienced doubts before, "There's always something that brings me back."
Some of her comments, however, could prove ample fodder for Republican detractors. Dayspring took to Twitter to respond to her remarks, highlighting comments she made about receiving phone calls from musician Bono and about taking a winter vacation in Scotland.
“People in Kentucky think of the Wildcats when UK is mentioned. Ashley Judd thinks about "wintering" in Europe http://ow.ly/ibvTd #KYSEN,” he tweeted.
DSCC National Press Secretary Justin Barasky pushed back against the attacks from Republicans, charging that McConnell would be vulnerable to any Democratic challenger in 2014.
"Mitch McConnell is a walking talking caricature of everything that's wrong with Washington's partisan political gridlock, and that's why he's the most unpopular Senator in the country. Any number of Democratic candidates will immediately become credible challengers in the face of the Minority Leader's abysmal poll numbers," he said.
Judd indicated that, at least on Friday, she was ready to go head-to-head with Republicans.
“I can't wait to hear from the College Republicans. They're very welcome,” she said, adding, “that’s not a joke!”
Updated at 7:51 p.m.