Rand Paul’s brain trust has spent months developing an exhaustive political and legal battle plan to ensure he can run for both Senate reelection and the White House in 2016—despite a Kentucky law that suggests otherwise.
They have developed backup plans for their backup plans in an all-out effort to safeguard Paul’s Senate seat should he falter in the presidential sweepstakes. The contingencies range from changing Kentucky into a presidential caucus state to filing a lawsuit challenging the law, from daring Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to keep him off the ballot to taking her out next November if she does.
The path remains murky, but Paul will take the first step on Tuesday, when he will formally announce he is running for reelection, even as he lays the groundwork to launch a presidential bid next year.
“He’s made the decision to run for reelection. Any decision beyond that will come in the spring,” said Paul spokesman Dan Bayens.
The problem facing Paul is pretty simple. Kentucky law says “no candidate’s name shall appear on any voting machine or absentee ballot more than once.” Yet Paul wants to appear as a candidate both for Senate and president.
The simplest solution, politically, was taken off the table in November, when Republicans failed to take control of the lower chamber of the Kentucky statehouse. Paul’s allies in the GOP-controlled state Senate had already pushed through legislation to change the law to let him run for two offices, but the measure languished in the Democratic-held House. Paul had invested time and money in the GOP takeover efforts, but they fell short.
“I don’t think that bill will ever see the light of day as long as I hold the gavel,” Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo told National Journal over the summer.
And so Paul’s team is turning to its multitude of contingency plans. They argue the Kentucky statute is unconstitutional when applied to federal races, citing the U.S. Supreme Court tossing out state-imposed federal term limits. Other national candidates, including Paul Ryan in 2012 and Joe Biden in 2008, have successfully sought lower federal offices simultaneously. But Paul’s team wants to avoid fighting a court battle, if possible.
Currently, the top option Team Rand sees is to shift Kentucky’s May 2016 presidential primary to a caucus in March, which would technically mean Paul isn’t on the same ballot and thus could circumvent the restriction.
The shift would have another advantage for Paul: moving up his home state in the nominating calendar. His team is eyeing March 16—the earliest date a winner-take-all caucus could be held without penalty, per Republican National Committee rules.
But any change would have to be approved by the sprawling 300-member board of the Republican Party of Kentucky, filled with local party officials. No plan has been formally presented yet, said party chairman Steve Robertson, who was first told of the idea on election night.
“Our governing body would certainly have a lot of questions about how this works, and until they have a chance to see a detailed proposal, it would be difficult to guess how they might vote on this,” Robertson said. The party faces an October 2015 deadline to decide.
The complications are both logistical (Kentucky has 120 counties) and financial, as the party itself would have to foot the bill for a caucus, unlike the currently scheduled late-May primary. The other problem is the fix would only work in the spring; if Paul advanced to become the presidential GOP nominee and the Kentucky Senate standard-bearer, he would still be on the ballot twice in November.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has embraced Paul’s expected presidential bid, is monitoring the situation, with an eye on avoiding any unnecessary complications to maintaining his newfound majority.
Perhaps the most intriguing options involve Grimes, the Democratic secretary of state whom McConnell crushed last month en route to his sixth term. One possibility is for Paul to simply file for both offices and dare her to deny one of the most popular political figures in the state a chance to run for both.
“I anticipate that if a candidate seeks to appear on the ballot for more than one office, this office would seek guidance from the attorney general and/or the courts,” said Lynn Zellen, a spokeswoman in the secretary of state’s office. The Kentucky attorney general, Jack Conway, is the Democrat Paul defeated to win his Senate seat in 2010.
Paul could also push to unseat Grimes in November 2015 if she blocked him from the ballot. It could be an easier task after McConnell and his allies softened her up politically this year with millions of dollars of attack ads that cast her as a Democratic partisan, though she is now universally known and has access to a nationwide network of donors.
Two dates circled on the calendars of Paul’s political advisers make beating Grimes an alluring option: Jan. 4, 2016 (the day Grimes’s term ends) and Jan. 26, 2016 (the Kentucky deadline to file for the presidential primary). That three-week gap means that if Grimes were to be defeated, her Republican successor would be sworn in in time to certify Paul for the presidential ballot.
The courts are another option. Paul, or more likely a supporter, could file a lawsuit (his strategists see federal court as a better avenue than the state) to get him on the ballot twice. The downside is that the justice system is slow and unpredictable—and a lawsuit to try to run for two offices simultaneously could tarnish the image of a politician who rose to power as a political outsider.
If all else fails, Paul could run for president across the country in the primaries but only for Senate in Kentucky. He would thus forfeit delegates in his own state. If he won the GOP nomination, he could then give up his Senate seat, though Democrats believe state law would make it difficult for the Republican Party to replace him.