The moves signaled that potential tea party opponents should stand down even if they still disagree with McConnell.
He agitated tea party activists anew when he joined with Vice President Joe Biden late last year to work out a compromise on the ‘‘fiscal cliff,’’ which threatened automatic tax increases and spending cuts. One of those activists, David Adams of Nicholasville, said that deal ‘‘is just more smoke and mirrors from someone who has a decades-long track record of mostly smoke and mirrors.’’
Despite grousing, Kentucky tea party groups have had little luck trying to recruit a strong primary challenger. At least two businessmen with tea party ties, John Kemper of Lexington and Matt Bevin of Louisville, are considering runs.
Beyond any primary, McConnell also is taunting would-be Democratic challengers in a comical online video intended to raise second thoughts about taking on a politicians known as brawler. Never hugely popular with his constituents, McConnell has managed to win elections by making his opponents even more unpopular.
The video shows Judd, who has a home in the Nashville, Tenn., suburbs, saying ‘‘Tennessee is home’’ and that San Francisco is ‘‘my American city home.’’ It also shows some of Kentucky’s leading Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Adam Edelen, saying they won’t run against McConnell.
Republican-leaning group American Crossroads is assailing Judd in its own online video that plays up the fact that she lives in Tennessee, and that she campaigned for President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky.
Judd has been discussing the prospects of challenging McConnell with Democratic leaders, including Gov. Steve Beshear. Her interest has other Democrats sitting on the sidelines until she makes a decision. She has kept silent in the face of the early attack, as has the state Democratic Party.
Republican strategist Larry Forgy, a Lexington lawyer and former gubernatorial candidate, said it appears McConnell and his allies are giving Judd a taste of what she'd face as a candidate — a barrage of attack ads playing nonstop for months.
‘‘They figure she’s not thick-skinned, that she won’t put up with this, that she'll see they'll say everything in the world,’’ Forgy said. ‘‘Mitch McConnell is not afraid of her, because she’s just not politically positioned in this state philosophically to beat him. But he'd rather run against nobody.’’