Rand Paul May Already Face a Hurdle for 2016

A state law in Kentucky does not allow a candidate to run for both president and senator on the same ballot.

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 07: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) takes the stage before addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center March 7, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. The CPAC annual meeting brings together conservative politicians, pundits and their supporters for speeches, panels and classes. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
March 17, 2014, 3:27 p.m.

A Ken­tucky polit­ic­al fight over a state law that gov­erns elect­or­al bal­lots is emer­ging as an early test for Sen. Rand Paul should he de­cide to run for pres­id­ent in 2016.

Ken­tucky’s ju­ni­or sen­at­or re­cently won straw polls in New Hamp­shire and at CPAC, and it’s no secret he is weigh­ing a cam­paign for the White House. There’s just one prob­lem: Ken­tucky law pro­hib­its can­did­ates from ap­pear­ing twice on the bal­lot, a po­ten­tial obstacle if you’re run­ning for Sen­ate and pres­id­ent.

That’s where Paul’s GOP al­lies come in. Da­mon Thay­er, ma­jor­ity lead­er of the Ken­tucky Sen­ate, is shep­herd­ing a bill through the Le­gis­lature that would solve the prob­lem, and last week Mitch Mc­Con­nell, minor­ity lead­er in the U.S. Sen­ate and Ken­tucky’s seni­or sen­at­or, said he sup­ports the ef­fort.

State Sen. Joe Bowen, who chairs the com­mit­tee that handled the bill, says Ken­tucky Re­pub­lic­ans have been dis­cuss­ing the meas­ure since be­fore the cur­rent le­gis­lat­ive ses­sion began earli­er this year. For them, it ac­com­plishes two things: It helps an in­flu­en­tial polit­ic­al fig­ure, and it raises the state’s pro­file. They say it’s no dif­fer­ent from Rep. Paul Ry­an run­ning for his House seat and the vice pres­id­ency in 2012 or Joe Biden run­ning for his Sen­ate seat in Delaware and the vice pres­id­ency in 2008.

“We’re mo­tiv­ated to al­low him to run for both of­fices,” Bowen said. “My in­terest is, one, he’d make an ex­cel­lent pres­id­ent, and two it’d be good for the com­mon­wealth of Ken­tucky.”

Paul’s camp casts the state Sen­ate bill as a kind of in­sur­ance policy and in­sists that the Ken­tucky law per­tains only to state of­fices and not their fed­er­al coun­ter­parts.

“We are not seek­ing to change the law, but rather to cla­ri­fy that the Ken­tucky stat­ute does not ap­ply to fed­er­al elec­tions,” RAND PAC Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Doug Stafford said in a state­ment. “Fed­er­al law gov­erns fed­er­al elec­tions, and the Su­preme Court has made it clear that states can­not im­pose ad­di­tion­al qual­i­fic­a­tions bey­ond those in the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

That’s an ar­gu­ment that Paul might have to press in court be­cause the state House and gov­ernor­ship in Ken­tucky are con­trolled by Demo­crats, and neither shows any sign of sup­port­ing the Sen­ate bill, which Bowen said he ex­pects will pass the up­per cham­ber be­fore the end of the ses­sion.

Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue Demo­crats should back the meas­ure be­cause it could one day help them. They cast the bill as non­par­tis­an.

“There are some naysay­ers,” Bowen said. “There are some naysay­ers on apple pie.”

But Ken­tucky Demo­crats aren’t about to change their minds. Demo­crat­ic House Speak­er Greg Stumbo has shot the idea down.

“If you’re gonna run, you oughta make up your mind and run for one of­fice and one of­fice only,” Stumbo said last month.

Still, Re­pub­lic­ans are tak­ing some heart. The pro­pos­al won the sup­port of Demo­crat­ic state Sen. Mor­gan McGar­vey, which en­cour­aged Bowen. He blames some of the op­pos­i­tion on end-of-ses­sion ten­sion.

“Nerves are frayed,” he said. “We’re wind­ing down. Maybe they have a change of heart. Talk is cheap.”

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