Inside Rand Paul’s Plan to Run for Senate and President at the Same Time

The Kentucky Republican is announcing his bid for reelection this week. But that is only the first step.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at an event hosted by the Iowa GOP Des Moines Victory Office on August 6, 2014 in Urbandale, Iowa.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
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Shane Goldmacher
Dec. 1, 2014, 4:46 p.m.

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.

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