As we discussed last year, Rand Paul had a procedural problem on his radar as he pondered a run for the White House while simultaneously being up for reelection for his Senate seat. The Bluegrass state has a law on the books which states that you can only appear on the ballot once for any given election. It was designed to stop people from doing precisely what Rand is contemplating… running for two offices at once. Rather than flipping a coin and just picking one, Rand has been hard at work trying to find a way to circumvent the rules, and following a meeting of the state’s Republican Party Executive Committee this weekend he is well on his way.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul took his first step toward running for president with state party leaders on Saturday endorsing his plan for a presidential caucus in 2016.
The move clears the way for Paul to run for president and for re-election to his Senate seat without breaking a state law that bans candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election.
The state GOP’s central committee must still sign off on the proposal in August. But, more importantly for Paul, Saturday’s vote by the Republican Party of Kentucky’s executive committee was an early endorsement of his unusual plan for dual campaigns ahead of a wide open Republican presidential primary.
“I just want to be treated like many other candidates around the country who have not been restricted,” Paul told reporters after the vote.
There doesn’t seem to be much which will impede this scheme, but it will leave a lot of questions in its wake. Even Mitch McConnell – Rand’s senior partner in Kentucky Senate seats – has only endorsed the plan if it is a one time deal and he wants Paul to pay for the cost of the caucus out of his own campaign funds. Whether you agree with the underlying principle or not, the voters of Kentucky have that law on the books for a reason. Changing it just so Rand Paul can run for two offices is questionable enough in and of itself, but changing it just for one year and then switching back is rather outrageous. That’s a blatant acknowledgement that you feel you are both outside and above the laws of your home state, and I have to wonder how well that will sit with voters at home.
Rand had some other options which wouldn’t have smacked quite so much of elite status, and I still question why he didn’t explore any of them. First of all there was the obvious choice of obeying the spirit of the law as well as the letter and simply deciding which office to run for. If he believes strongly in his chances of being President, step down and let somebody else run for the Senate seat. If he loses the White House bid he could always come back in 2022 and run for his old seat in the primary.
Failing that, he could have obeyed the letter – but not the spirit – of the law and run for his Senate seat and just not been on the ballot in the presidential primary in Kentucky. There’s nothing in the law that says he couldn’t run for President in the other 49 states (or 56 by White House maths) next year… just in Kentucky. They go fairly late in the cycle anyway, so it should be obvious by then whether he’s in the hunt or not. And if he is, he’ll probably be able to sweep through the convention without his home state’s 45 delegates. It would represent a minor embarrassment for most candidates, but I think people would understand under the circumstances.
True, that would complicate things for the state party in November. If he were the GOP nominee for the presidency he would either have to drop out of the Senate race (and I’m not up to date on Kentucky state election laws as to how or if they could put in a replacement candidate after May) or obtain a court order allowing him to still be on the ballot for both offices. If he won both, he would essentially need to resign from the Senate while preparing to be President, forcing Kentucky into a special election for the Senate seat I presume. If he lost to Hillary (or whoever) then he could sail on to his next term in the Senate with no issues.
Rand is doing his home state no favors by subjecting them to a caucus for a single cycle. Never mind that I’ve always felt that caucuses were an ugly way of doing business and, frankly, undemocratic because they remove the secret ballot aspect of the process. Caucuses are messy and complicated. It takes a while to figure out how to conduct them and get anywhere near maximum participation. This will toss the Kentucky presidential decision into chaos for one cycle, all so Rand can have his cake and eat it too.
But in the end, this is a decision for the Kentucky GOP to make. They get to pick their own poison, and if this is the direction they choose, the voters can let the leadership know what they think of it the following year.