Ashley Judd hosts a campaign event for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a Democratic presidential candidate, in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 24, 2019. Judd, an actress and activist, decided against running for office herself a few years ago but now she’s out stumping for Warren.
Ashley Judd hosts a campaign event for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a Democratic presidential candidate, in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 24, 2019. Judd, an actress and activist, decided against running for office herself a few years ago but now she’s out stumping for Warren. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / NYT)

Can Ashley Judd help Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances here?

Eighteen days before the state primary, Warren supporters at Judd’s three-stop tour Friday were not entirely sure. Per recent history, the effect of celebrity political endorsements has been decidedly mixed.


But with Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, having a bumpy go of it in the polls, and the timeworn question of whether a woman can win the presidency having made its way to the front and center of the 2020 contest just in time for actual voting to begin, Judd’s whistle-stop visits to Hanover, Lebanon and Nashua gave Warren backers in this early voting state, at the very least, a lift.

“My heart’s still beating so fast,” said Amanda Denaro, 24, after Judd swept out of the cramped “Warren for President” offices in Lebanon. “She’s the perfect woman to do this. It’s powerful women coming together.”

Judd announced just over three weeks ago that Warren had her vote, and, with the senator in Washington for the impeachment trial, the actress and activist showed up as Warren’s surrogate, with the promise to return and knock on doors.

Judd brings feminist bona fides and seemed well positioned to answer the “electability” question or at least urge people to believe that Warren could win — with their votes.

“We have the fight of our lives on our hands, not just for what we believe in but for the very democracy of this country,” Judd said, later adding, “Thank God Elizabeth has a plan for everything.”

The hope is that Judd’s position in celebritydom might sway undecided voters, her activism in recent years having eclipsed her movie and television work. In October 2017, Judd became the first famous actress to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, making her an early face of the #MeToo movement. She had already stuck her head above the parapet, hitting back at sexist online abuse in a TED Talk and, at the first Women’s March, delivering a searing performance of “Nasty Woman,” an anti-Trump poem written by a 19-year old; it was met both rapturously and with opprobrium, including from Judd’s sister, singer Wynonna Judd (“The whole thing is toxic,” Wynonna Judd wrote in a tweet.)

Warren’s New Hampshire supporters said they were grateful that Ashley Judd came their way.

“It encourages all of us little folks who, you know, who are trying to accomplish the same thing,” said Mary Ann Haagen, 74, a Warren supporter and retired teacher who showed up to see Judd speak in Lebanon.

Things kicked off midday Friday in a campus building at Dartmouth College, where students filled a few dozen seats and ate pizza until the muted thump of approaching heels on the carpet pulled their attention away from their phones.

Judd rounded a corner, smiling. “I’ll hope you show me some mercy today,” she said, adding that it was her first outing on behalf of Warren as she rifled through sheets of talking points.

She told the crowd that she got her first taste of activism in college and said that although she knew Warren only slightly, she had been intrigued ever since Warren’s first appearance in 2009 on “The Daily Show.” She drew parallels between the experiences of Warren’s parents in Oklahoma and her own impoverished Kentucky kin: her “Papaw” Judd who had a filling station and kept his money rolled in a paper sack in the trunk of his car, and her Papaw and Mamaw Ciminella, who ran an aluminum siding business. Like Warren’s parents, she said, they all were one health shock away from financial catastrophe.

Afterward, she walked up to people sitting in the front row and said, “Hi, I’m Ashley.” She asked people, one by one, where they were from. “Los Angeles,” one young woman replied. “So you ended up in the cold weather — a bit of a shock,” Judd said. “I see you have a T-shirt on,” she added with a laugh. “I hope I did OK,” she said to another, “I’m just getting started.”

At her second stop, in Lebanon, she was introduced by Deb Nelson, the chairwoman of the Hanover-Lyme Democratic Party, who noted that along with Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, Judd had earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard and won a dean’s award there.

Nelson lamented the actress’ 2013 decision to not challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat.


“Just think for a minute about how different life would be had Ashley Judd run for the Senate, because she would have been elected,” Nelson said.

Speaking without notes this time, Judd hit more talking points, extolling Warren’s climate and environmental commitments and lamenting the Trump administration’s rollback of protections of wetlands and streams as “profoundly upsetting.”

She delved into painful personal history to highlight the importance of Roe v. Wade. After she was raped by a boy she had known since second grade, Judd said, she opted to have an abortion. Had she not, she said, her rapist would have been granted paternity rights. “Patriarchy and misogyny,” she said, “is the water in which we swim.”

Her last stop of the day, at a “nanobrewery” called Liquid Therapy in Nashua, not far from the Massachusetts border, was the busiest, and, with after-work beer flowing, the liveliest. Wrapping up her talk, Judd told the crowd she never wanted to have a reason to repeat the “Nasty Woman” poem again. “So let’s make sure the next Women’s March, it’s a victory march.”

People in the crowd cheered and then, among themselves, debated Warren’s chances, reaching little in the way of consensus.

Elizabeth Burton, 36, said while she loved Judd’s speech, celebrity endorsements rarely carried weight. Burton was also discouraged by Warren’s struggles in the polls.

“It’s tough being a woman in the United States right now,” Burton said, “I hate to say it, because it sucks, but I feel like people in this country want a man.”

Standing a few feet away, Vicki Meagher, 69, said that while she found Warren to be the most impressive candidate, she was voting for former Vice President Joe Biden because she believed he would get more support. “That’s my one issue,” Meagher said, “Who do I think will win?”

But Jennifer Bernet, 57, a state representative, said the race was still fluid and dismissed talk of Warren’s electability as a canard.

“If somebody’s elected, they’re electable,” Bernet said. “Nobody thought Trump was going to be electable at this time in 2016. Look what happened.”

Wendy Thomas, a mother of six and “water warrior” environmentalist who won her race for state representative in 2018, said she had faith that, this decade, American women would continue stepping to the fore.

The whole question of “electability,” Thomas said, amounted to little more than a Republican talking point.

“Women rock the cradle,” Thomas said, “Women are the people that are going to right this ship.”


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