LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- After meeting with actress Ashley Judd at an exclusive dinner with other influential Democrats, the former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party tells WHAS11 he believes Judd can unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014, her association with University of Kentucky basketball a key factor.
"Make no mistake, Mitch McConnell is the most effective politician in my lifetime in this state," said Jonathan Miller, also the former Kentucky Treasurer. "It will be very tough for anybody to beat him, but I do think she can give him a run for his money."
Miller penned a column for Newsweek/The Daily Beast making the case for a Judd Senate candidacy amid hand-wringing by some Bluegrass Democrats that Judd is too liberal for the conservative state, and may compromise down-ticket races for Democrats.
"Ashley Judd would represent a true change agent and change makes people who are in the establishment, nervous," Miller said.
Judd is already reaching out to top Democrats and potential donors, including at a dinner Thursday evening at the Louisville home of philanthropist Christy Brown. Others in attendance included Miller, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D), who has been Judd's biggest public cheerleader to enter the race.
"I am very confident that -- this is a very charismatic woman -- that once she does make this decision, if she makes the decision to run, and touches all these bases that the feathers will become unruffled and people will become comfortable with her," Miller said.
Sources tell WHAS11 News that Judd told the gathering she was leaning toward running against McConnell and would make a decision by Derby Day, May 6.
"Without meeting her, you believe caricatures," Miller said, explaining some of the resistance by other Democrats.
"You believe either the hype or the caricatures," Miller continued. "And if you believe the caricatures then that's the kind of commentary we're getting. But I think once they meet Ashley -- if she does make this run -- they're going to learn this is a really bright person who really cares deeply about Kentucky, has deep roots, eight, nine generations in eastern Kentucky, and could be a real formidable challenger."
Judd's liberal views, allegiance to President Barack Obama and Tennessee residency are ridiculed in a video released by American Crossroads, a conservative Super PAC led by conservative lightning rod Karl Rove and a former McConnell aide.
Miller, a prolific poker player, said the web video attacking Judd indicates the Republican mindset about a potential match-up.
"One of the rules about the table is someone who's acting really confident probably has a really weak hand," Miller said. "I think the GOP establishment is really nervous because they know of her ability to raise a lot of money and to get a lot of time to get her message across."
The news media, Miller predicted, would give unprecedented coverage to a Judd Senate campaign compared to candidates in other statewide races.
"Sometimes we have to beg you all to interview us when we are running for office," Miller, a one-time gubernatorial candidates, said.
"You're going to be begging her to be on your cameras," he continued. "And so it's going to give her incredible opportunities to reach people whose hands she can't shake... through the media."
The attacks on Judd can also be neutralized, Miller predicted, because of Judd's allegiance to what he referred to as "Kentucky's state religion," University of Kentucky basketball.
"The fact that Ashley Judd is the number one fan really does make a difference in most of our state," Miller said.
Judd attends many Wildcat games, has been called upon to help lead cheers at Rupp Arena games and frequently writes about the team on her Twitter account.
"She is someone who is so closely identified with something that unites all of us," Miller said, "whether we're Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, conservative and so wherever she goes, any part of the state, except maybe in some quarters of Louisville, she has that in common with the voters."
"That's a great way to start a conversation about what really matters."
Miller, a Lexington attorney, is a co-founder of the No-Labels political reform group and hosts the political commentary website, therecoveringpolitician.com.
"I'd love people who are skeptical, take a deep breath. If she does decide to make a run, listen to what she says and I think there will be a lot of Democrats and even some independents and Republicans out there who will like what she has to say," Miller said.