(CNN) – Ashley Judd was fully aware she was under the Washington media spotlight Friday when she spoke about public health issues at George Washington University.
"I'm a lot more nervous than y'all are, I promise," she told a group of students who were asking questions at the event. "There are people here who don't give a rat's-you-know-what about public health."
It wasn't the first time Judd looked over at the reporters in the room. Earlier in her remarks, Judd talked about how she learned to train herself to bring her "anxiety down" at certain points in her life.
Then, turning to the press, she joked: "You people have that effect on us. You do. You do," she said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Normally, a celebrity appearance at a university in Washington wouldn't turn out such a big media presence. But this was the first time Judd was speaking publicly since she began stoking speculation about challenging the Senate's most powerful Republican in 2014.
Judd has expressed interest in the Kentucky seat currently held by GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell. She recently met with potential donors in Kentucky, and talked with top officials at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She reportedly will announce her decision by early May, around the time of the Kentucky Derby.
Critics–and even McConnell's team–have preemptively been on the attack, especially with questions about her residency.
While Judd's family dates back generations in Kentucky and she spent much of her childhood in the state, she's lived in Tennessee for years and represented Kentucky's neighboring state when she attended and spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Media outlets were permitted to attend the event Friday but were told beforehand that only students were allowed to ask questions. None of the students at the event, however, attempted to quiz Judd about her potential Senate run, though one student dipped her toe in the water.
"I know you may be running for political office, but I'm not asking you about that," the student said.
Keeping her poker face, Judd simply smiled and brushed it off with sarcasm. "Is there an elephant in the room?"
What was abundantly clear was Judd's repeated references to Kentucky. She made sure to mention she graduated from the University of Kentucky at least a couple of times and seemed to talk about the state at every chance she could. As she was gifted a vase at the end of session, the state got another shout-out.
"The daffodils are fixing to bloom in Kentucky, and they will look beautiful in this," she said.
Judd spoke for more than an hour at the event–first giving a speech about her background and how she became interested in public health and other humanitarian issues. The Harvard grad spoke about her travels and people she met at orphanages, brothels, slave labor camps and displacement camps.
She also spoke freely about her violent past as a three-time victim of rape and spoke knowledgeably about gender violence issues, both in the military and civilian worlds.
Judd also opened up about her family, frequently talking about her mother, country singer Naomi Judd, who was in the audience and was the first to give her a standing ovation at the end.
The Hollywood actress also expressed her love for both Peace Corps volunteers and epidemiologists.
"Yay epidemiologists yay!" she said at one point, meeting an audience member who specialized in the field.
Some of her not-so-politician-sounding moments didn't go unnoticed by her would-be competition. Brad Dayspring, a strategist at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, jumped on a comment Judd made about how she once told the musician, Bono, that she and her ex-husband would travel during the winters.
"We winter in Scotland," she said. "We're smart like that."
Dayspring wasted no time: "A true woman of the people," he posted on Twitter, referring to her comment.
"I wonder if Ashley Judd will 'winter in Scotland' this year," he also wrote. "Tough to run a #KYSEN campaign from the UK."
Asked about Judd's potential campaign on Friday, McConnell didn't give too much input.
“We’ll talk about next year’s race when it gets here," McConnell told CNN affiliate WAVE in Kentucky.
Judd will be out in the spotlight again Saturday, as she's scheduled to receive an award for her humanitarian work in India.
Besides her residency, another issue that could hurt Judd in Kentucky is her fierce opposition to mountain top coal mining, a big industry in the state. And that's got some Kentucky Democrats concerned about the prospect of Judd as their party's 2014 Senate nominee. No other major Democrats are considering bids at this time.
But Judd does have the support of one of the top elected Democrats in the state.
"She's smart. She knows the issues, and she does it in a very pleasant way, she talks about them in a very unthreatening way. So I think she'd be a great candidate," Rep. John Yarmuth said last week.
- CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.
McConnell promptly went home and changed his pants.
Down and out, the only thing too show Mitch is the door. GO ASHLEY!!
McConnell will be an ex-senator in 2014. Thank goodness.
Yarmuth is the ONLY Democrat in Kentucky who is on the Asshley Judd bandwagon. He's beating the drum as loudly as he can but it doesn't seem to be having much effect. I'm hearing more and more talk about Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's current Secretary of State, who is young, beautiful, brilliant and – actually lives in Kentucky. She also put up huge numbers in the SOS election, the best of any KY politician in recent years. She has a much better chance to unseat McConnell than Asshley "It's unconscionable to breed" Judd.
Ashley Judd would be a HUGE improvement over McConnell. Next to Tennessee, Kentucky has two of the most embarrassing senators in Washington.
Hollywood in bed with democrats.
Nothing new here people, move along....................
Judd is a radical left wing extremist. She has no place in politics. None.
Good luck to Ms. Judd if she makes a run for the US Senate. Won't be an easy road with Republican/Tea Party political dirty tricksters ready to begin a nasty and dirty campaign of personal attacks.
"Ashley Judd for Senate" is just the 2013 version of "Donald Trump for President"
She already had more smarts at 5, in kindergarten than Mitch will ever have if he lives to be 90.
I guess acting in a few movies qualifies someone for the job of US Senator, one of the most powerful positions one can have in the US. Thats what Democrats think anyway. I mean Ashley has about as much leadership experience as Obama had in 2008.
Even if Ashley Judd doesn't run, Mitch McConnell is outta there.
We love you, Ashley! Run!
Personally, I don't care what state she is from- although her heritage and history are behind her passion -she's an advocate for WOMEN – and will be an invested voice in Washington – that women already learned that its NOT about the money – its the VOTE that counts.
CNN's coverage of her limited mistakes in a speech without notes, teleprompters or script was slime news. I got a 'reality check' of how edited your presentations really are. So sad.
She's young and smart - quite the opposite of Turtle-Face.
Stay with acting you are better at that.
It's nice to see a real smile , a real humanbeing .
She will do great .
shes not from Kentucky anymore , she is from Hollywood. Last time I checked, Obama got smoked in Kentucky and the people there believe in morals, god, the right to arms and the don't worship reality stars like the Kardashians. She should run in California or NY where they listen to actors tell them how to live.
Another "celebrity" contestant. How helpful. She should stay chasing her son in some failed melodrama.
Anybody but Mitch!
who on earth would support this lady for the senate? Do we really need another "celebrity" to bow to? I doubt that McConnell is worried...
One more state to cross off of my reitrement posibilities.
isn't she divorcing some race car driver? i did not realize that would qualify someone as a) a celebrity or b) a potential political candidate.
Considering that Kentucky is deep red state (Romney took 60% of the state, there is only one district held by a Democrat, both senators are well known, very VERY Repub), I think the Dems need a celebrity to stand a chance. At least then the really stupid people will vote Dem.
We all need a little country in our life Ms. Jud is that person to give Kenturky that and more more than what they have now. Enough said.