In 1964, George Murphy was elected as the junior senator from California. Murphy, a Republican, had been a song-and-dance man in the thirties and forties, appearing in Hollywood musicals. Despite having a substantial career as a political operative after leaving show business (he had led the California Republican party, among other things), the idea that a performer would be a U.S. senator struck some people as absurd, so much so that satirist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about Murphy ("At last we've got a senator who can really sing and dance!"). When Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California two years later, it didn't seem so funny anymore.
Which brings us to today's political-entertainment news:
Ashley Judd vs. Mitch McConnell? It might not be as far-fetched as you think.
The Hollywood movie star and eighth-generation Kentuckian is seriously exploring a 2014 run for the Senate to take on the powerful Republican leader, four people familiar with the matter tell POLITICO. In recent weeks, Judd has spoken with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) about the possibility of a run, has discussed a potential bid with a Democratic pollster and has begun to conduct opposition research on herself to see where she’s most vulnerable in the Bluegrass State, sources say.
Whether Judd jumps into the race remains far from certain. She’s reportedly also weighing whether to wait until 2016 to instead take on freshman Sen. Rand Paul, sources say.
I've always thought that celebrity endorsements are next to useless, despite the millions of votes Kid Rock no doubt brought in for Mitt Romney this year. But it's extremely rare for a celebrity to actually run for office, not least because being a politician isn't nearly as much fun as being a movie star. Kentucky Republicans are primed and ready to run Judd through the ringer ("We’re going to make sure that you don’t come out with your nose clean. We’re going to drive your negatives up and very aggressively and publicly litigate your record before the citizens of Kentucky," says one quoted in the article), and there's no telling how she'd stand up to that. But Minnesota Republicans tried that with Al Franken, rummaging through his career as a comedian to find embarrassing tidbits, and it didn't really work. On the other hand, Franken had spent a few years as a radio host, talking about politics for hours every day, so he was well-versed in the issues. And when he became a candidate, he did the hard work of going to every VFW hall, fish fry, and coffee klatch he could find, diligently meeting voter after voter to make his case. It isn't all that glamorous, but it's what you have to do if you want to win.
Being a celebrity doesn't make you a good candidate, but it shouldn't disqualify you either. Though acting doesn't really prepare you for the hard work of legislating, neither do many of the other things people put up as relevant experience when they run for office. I'm hopeful that the recent failures of candidates like Romney, Carly Fiorina, and Meg Whitman will make people skeptical of the absurd, "I'm a businessman, not a politician" argument (imagine if you wanted a plumber to install a new water heater for you, and he said, "I'm an accountant, not a plumber, which is why I'm the best person for this job"), but that probably won't happen. In any case, by all accounts Judd is reasonably smart and knowledgeable, so she wouldn't be anything near the least prepared person serving in that august body. And she presumably has plenty of her own money to put up, and would be able to raise plenty more.
So why not? It's a long shot anyway—liberals don't do too well in Kentucky. On the other hand, McConnell may be more vulnerable than you'd assume. In his last race he spent double what his opponent did, but only won by six points. Also, Ashley Judd was once on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and how many senators can say that? Kentucky Democrats could do worse.