LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Actress Ashley Judd says she is "very honored" to be considered as a candidate for U.S. Senate in her home state of Kentucky, but stopped short of confirming her interest in the 2014 race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).
"I cherish Kentucky, heart and soul, and while I'm very honored by the consideration, we have just finished an election," Judd said in a statement e-mailed to WHAS11 Thursday afternoon, "So, let's focus on coming together to keep moving America's families, and especially our kids, forward."
Talk of Judd's potential candidacy exploded in social media and in political circles on Wednesday after the idea was touted by U.S. Representative John Yarmuth (D-Ky3), the lone surviving Democrat in Kentucky's congressional delegation after Tuesday's election.
"This is not a frivolous thing," Yarmuth said Thursday. "I think she is definitely interested in seeking public office. She has a great interest in public policy, and so I have encouraged her to do that."
Yarmuth also stirred controversy in his election night pledge to do everything he can to deny McConnell a sixth term in the Senate.
"It's funny that a day after the leader of their party, President Obama, called for elected officials to bridge the partisan divide, the Kentucky Democrat party is already sharpening their knives," said Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager, in a statement.
"Still, their desperation is understandable as they no doubt realize what a daunting task it will be to run against Senator McConnell and his un-matched record of serious, principled leadership," Benton continued.
A University of Kentucky graduate with a degree in French, Judd lives in Tennessee and works in Hollywood but bleeds Kentucky blue, often attending and enthusiastically cheering Wildcat basketball games.
WHAS11 News has learned that the actress, a Barack Obama delegate at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, has been in conversations with influential Kentucky Democrats for months.
"All I know is that she is seriously taking the steps that she would need to do to explore a candidacy," Yarmuth explained. "I don;t think she's ready to move to Kentucky, but she has such a connection to this state I don't think that would really be an issue."
Judd's residency "will become an issue if Sen McConnell in reelection decides he wants to make it an issue," said Bob Gunnell, a prominent Kentucky Democratic strategist, "And (McConnell has the money to do that, and he's known to be pretty vicious."
"She's doing her due diligence," Yarmuth said, "researching, talking to people and again she's very much interested in running for an office. And, whether it's United States Senator from Kentucky or Governor of Tennessee, I'm not sure. I know she's seriously exploring it."
"I love it. And I watch her when she's at the U of K games all the time," said Ann Doane of Louisville, a Judd fan. "I watch all of her movies, so I think she is awesome."
First elected in 1984, McConnell is the longest serving U.S. Senator in Kentucky history.
"He's done a pretty good job. I like him," said Steve Singleton. "She might have a good chance against him, seems like they all have a good chance."
Other potential Democratic candidates include:
* top Obama fundraiser and former ambassador to Sweden Matthew Barzun, who did not respond to a call from WHAS11.
* Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan-Grimes, who has declined comment on the race yet is often mentioned for her father Jerry Lundergan's fundraising prowess and association with former President Bill Clinton.
* Lt. Governor and former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who can rely on strong support from popular Governor Steve Beshear and enjoys statewide exposure as lieutenant governor for several years leading up to the 2014 election.
"I'm currently focused on my duties as Lt. Governor and overseeing the Governor's taskforce on tax reform," Abramson said in a statement. "As the 2014 election approaches, the Democratic Party will have the best candidate in the U.S. Senate race."
* Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who lost to Bruce Lunsford in the Democratic Senate primary in 2008.
Fischer did not rule out a Senate run on Thursday.
"I love the job I have right now," Fischer told WHAS11. "I'd never say I'm not going to do something but I don't have any plans to do that. I have two years left in my term here so I need to decide if I am going to run for mayor again which I am leaning toward."
Fischer said a senate candidate who intends to run a "traditional bid" would have to launch it, soon.
"The next three or months somebody should be announcing they want to get in there because running for a U.S. Senate race is very expensive," Fischer said.
Beshear has ruled out a bid.
"I have the best elected job in the state of Kentucky, and I will not pursue another office," Beshear said in a statement. "However, I am confident that the Democrats will field a strong candidate in the 2014 race."
Gunnell said the Senate race would be tough for any Democrat against a well-funded McConnell and in a mid-term environment often a challenge for the party of the incumbent president.
Obama lost Kentucky by 23 percentage points and Judd is an Obama Democrat.
"I just don't think at the end of the day she's a good fit for our state," Gunnell said. "Now, that being said, I think she could run a very good race because she would attract large national money, large national attention."
Gunnell said Abramson may be the ideal candidate because for any Democratic candidate to win statewide, they would have to carry Louisville by a big margin. Judd's Wildcat allegiance could come back to bite her in Cardinal country.
"I'm a U of L fan as well," Judd said in a March interview with WHAS11 News. "I'm one of those Kentuckians who likes to support all things Kentucky."