WASHINGTON - Ashley Judd said Wednesday she will not run for the U.S. Senate against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The actress-activist, who had been considered a top contender for the Democratic nomination, announced her decision on Twitter.
"After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities and energy at this time need to be focused on my family," Judd said. "Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate."
Democrats have made McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, a prime target for defeat in 2014. Democrats have 21 seats to defend next year vs. 14 for Republicans.
Judd, who grew up in Kentucky but no longer lives there, had been making the rounds in the state and in Washington assessing the race with the help of pollsters, Democratic lawmakers and strategists.
Her support for President Obama and some of her past statements - such as proclaiming herself "aggressively and delightfully radical" - were mocked by American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC, which also took issue with Tennessee address. GOP strategist Karl Rove vowed there would be more attacks if Judd jumped into the race.
Public opinion polls in Kentucky have shown McConnell is vulnerable. The Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found in December that Judd would be the top choice of Democratic voters for the nomination and would trail McConnell by four percentage points in a hypothetical matchup.
Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters recently that Judd and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes were among the "quality candidates" for the party.
Lundergan Grimes, who was elected in 2011, has been considering the Senate race and recently received encouragement from former President Bill Clinton, a friend of the family. Clinton was also said to have encouraged Judd, according to ABC News.
Judd and her husband, Dario Franchitti, announced in January that they were divorcing after 10 years of marriage. Franchitti is a Scottish race car driver who won the 2007 Indianapolis 500.
Judd had told Democrats she would make a decision before the Kentucky Derby on May 4. Her recent public appearance, including one at a women's health forum at George Washington University, had generated much interest in part because of the possible Senate bid.
In her series of tweets, Judd said she enjoyed speaking to people in Kentucky "who expressed their desire for a fighter for the people and a new leader."
She vowed that she will continue to work hard "to ensure the needs of Kentucky families are met by returning this Senate seat to whom it rightfully belongs: the people and their needs, dreams and great potential."
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who had been talking up a possible Judd candidacy, had said recently he would be surprised if the actress did not challenge McConnell.
Yarmuth spokesman Stephen George said Wednesday that while the congressman is "disappointed that she didn't make this race because she would have been a strong candidate, he's confident Kentucky Democrats will have a strong candidate against Sen. McConnell, who is the least popular senator in the country."
Contributing: James R. Carroll, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal
Catalina Camia, USA TODAY