Rand Paul faces August vote on ballot status

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Story highlights

  • Money will be the biggest question on Kentucky Republicans' minds on Aug. 22 when they decide whether to move to the caucus
  • For its part, Paul's campaign remains bullish on the vote

Washington (CNN)Amid disappointing poll and fundraising numbers, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has a potentially make-or-break moment for his campaign long before the next GOP debate.

The Kentucky Republican Party will decide on Aug. 22 whether to move their presidential nominating event from a May primary to a March caucus -- which would allow Paul to run for Senate and the Republican nomination for president simultaneously.
    At issue is a Kentucky law preventing any candidate's name from appearing on the same ballot more than once, meaning Paul could not run for Senate and president on the same primary ballot. But after trying to change the law failed, his campaign pushed for the Republican Party to change the presidential primary into a caucus and move it earlier in the spring.
    The Kentucky GOP executive committee unanimously advanced the proposal in March, charging a special committee with developing a plan for how the change would actually be implemented. That work is done, and now the full central committee of 334 members will decide the fate of the primary in less than two weeks.
    Paul sat atop the GOP field in a CNN/ORC poll conducted in March 2014, and had support in the double-digits as recently as April of this year, but in the most recent CNN/ORC poll in July, just 6% of Republican registered voters said they would support the Kentucky senator.
    Paul's fundraising has also been lackluster, falling in the middle of the pack of Republican candidates in the early months of the campaign.
    Money will be the biggest question on Kentucky Republicans' minds on Aug. 22 when they decide whether to move to the caucus, state GOP executive committee members said Monday.
    "I think there's a keen awareness among members of the governing committee that will look at this on Aug. 22 and will look at the finances and ask, can we afford it?" Kentucky GOP Chairman Steve Robertson said. "And I think if that's the topic that dominates the discussion on Aug. 22, I have no idea how this plays out. I think if we're not concerned about the finances, it passes."
    Robertson and Scott Lasley, the GOP district chairman who ran the special committee that put together the caucus proposal, estimated the cost of the change to procedure at about $500,000.
    They both also said that many of the concerns that were raised in the March executive committee meeting, including how to include overseas military voters and how to structure the caucus fairly, were adequately addressed by the special committee's work.
    "The two questions that came up consistently were concerns about the Senate race and concerns about the funding," Lasley said. If Paul were to win the presidential nomination, he would have to engage in a legal battle to also run for Senate in November 2016.
    But Lasley said the campaign has promised money won't be an issue.
    "I'm fairly confident that the money will be there. It would surprise me if it wasn't," he said. "My understanding and my assumption is that's not an issue, that the Paul campaign will ensure the funding of the caucus. If for some reason if that were not to happen, that would complicate things. But I have no reason to believe that would not happen."
    For its part, Paul's campaign remains bullish on the vote.
    "We are very confident that the KY GOP, which has already voted on this change in the past, will fully support Sen. Rand Paul," Paul's Kentucky campaign spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper said in an email. "It has been widely reported that Sen. Paul pledged to make sure that the caucus wouldn't cost the state party anything, and he stands by that pledge to fund it."
    Robertson said the Paul campaign has been meeting with committee members, and members have also been meeting with each other, but he didn't predict an outcome.
    "I guess at the end of the day, the members of the committee just have to feel confident that the money is there, and there is still time between now and Aug. 22 for that feeling of confidence to wash over the members of this committee," he said. "As I said, if the conversation Aug. 22 is about how to pay for it, I have no idea how it plays out."
    It won't just be Paul's future that will weigh on Republicans' minds, either.
    Each member will ultimately have to weigh the cost-benefit his or herself, Lasley said. With the funding source and potentially complicated Senate race on the one hand, many members also feel on the other that moving to the caucus would boost the state's importance in the primary, which would make for a more exciting race than most presidential years.
    "Right now, the biggest selling point would be if we could attract five, six, seven candidates here to compete for Kentucky's delegates," Lasley said. "That's a heck of a lot more exciting than Kentucky's last election cycle."
    State party members, which include county officials as well as elected officials statewide, will gather on Aug. 22 to reach a final conclusion. Robertson said he will lead the meeting, reserving a vote for if there's a tie.
    Paul's opponent -- and current GOP front-runner -- Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to tease the senator over the change pushed for by his campaign.
    "Why is @RandPaul allowed to take advantage of the people of Kentucky by running for Senator and Pres. Why should Kentucky be back up plan?" Trump tweeted.