Sen. Rand Paul announced he's running for re-election to the Senate
He's also expected to run for president at the same time in 2016
But a Kentucky law prevents him from being on the ballot twice
He has a few other options to get around the law
Sen. Rand Paul announced his bid for a second term in the Senate on Tuesday, launching what will likely be a complicated election season as he attempts to keep his seat and run for an expected presidential campaign.
In a low-key campaign rollout, the Kentucky Republican declined to hold a traditional kick-off event, making the announcement instead in a lengthy press release that listed his local and national policy efforts.
In fact, Paul wasn’t even in Kentucky on Tuesday. He stayed in Washington for votes and to speak at a Wall Street Journal event.
“What he just decided was he didn’t need a big rally and a lot of fan fare,” Doug Stafford, Paul’s senior adviser, said on a call with reporters. “He wanted what he has done to speak for itself.”
The problem for Paul is that Kentucky only allows candidates to appear on the ballot once during an election. If he runs for president–a decision he said Monday is “four to six months” away–that would pose a challenge come May 17, 2016, Kentucky’s primary day.
And if he wins the GOP nomination for both offices, the dilemma could come up again six months later on Election Day.
Paul has a number of options to get around the law, but his team isn’t saying — at least publicly— how they’re prioritizing the different paths they could take.
“I don’t think we’ve abandoned any option, nor have we settled on any option,” Stafford said.
‘Just to help Rand’
Paul’s allies in the Republican-controlled state Senate tried to change the law through the legislature last year, but the measure stalled in the Democratic-led Kentucky House.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat who played an instrumental role in preventing the bill from advancing, said it would have violated a clause in Kentucky’s Constitution that prohibits special legislation that would only affect one person or a small group of people.
“Where I come from, people think if you can’t make up your mind on which office you want to run for, then you ain’t fit to serve in either one,” Stumbo said in an interview.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat who represents the Louisville area, said he doesn’t think running for two offices will hurt Paul’s chances with Kentucky voters.
“If you like him, you’ll vote for him. If you don’t like him, you won’t vote for him,” he said. “In all fairness, I doubt if it will cost him any votes, just like it didn’t seem to cost Paul Ryan any votes.”
Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, both ran for their seats in Congress when they appeared as running mates on the 2012 and 2008 presidential ballots, respectively.
The backlash, Yarmuth said, would come if Republicans were able to push through a law “just to help Rand.”
But that seems highly unlikely. Because Democrats were able to maintain control of the Kentucky House in the midterms, it looks like the law will stay in place.
Going to court
Paul recently labeled the dilemma a “fairness issue,” pointing to other states where such a law doesn’t exist.
“Should people who live in Minnesota get the chance to vote for one of their favorite sons or daughters twice, and people in Kentucky not?” he said in an interview with the liberal-leaning news outlet Salon. “I think eligibility for office has to be uniform across the states.”
The U.S. Constitution requires only three qualifications for the Senate: The person must be at least 30, a citizen for at least nine years and an inhabitant of the state where he or she wants to be elected.
In Paul’s view, a law requiring him to appear on the ballot only once would be considered an additional qualification.
“The Constitution set the requirements for eligibility for office that states can’t modify for federal office; they can modify for state office, but I think that’s actually a case that could be won,” he said.
A court challenge would be one of his options. Paul referenced a case known as Thornton vs. Term Limits in which the Supreme Court ruled that states don’t have a right to add qualifications to federal offices.
But Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, said a legal challenge may be an uphill battle.
“It’s not a slam dunk either way. I think the constitutional arguments are very difficult for him,” he said, adding that state legislatures have wide leeway in deciding how to elect presidential candidates.
The Supreme Court, he continued, has ruled in the past that there’s no fundamental right to be a candidate.
“I don’t think this law adds a qualification on him,” Douglas said.
Changing up the system
Another dual campaign possibility would be if the Kentucky Republican Party changes its presidential primary to a caucus or convention system. In that scenario, Paul’s name wouldn’t be on the ballot.
“That would overcome, really, I think, the problem there,” Paul told Salon.
Stafford confirmed Tuesday that Paul’s political team has been talking to the Kentucky GOP about changing the system, but he stressed that those discussions were already ongoing within the party and were not started by Paul.
An earlier nominating contest in Kentucky would also bring more national attention to the state during a highly-anticipated election year. The state’s GOP did not respond to a request for comment about the possibility.
Doug Wead, an adviser to Paul and a former adviser to Paul’s father, ex-Rep. Ron Paul, argued that it’s a bold move for the state party to contemplate the idea.
“You either have to be a very popular person with the electorate, or you have to be a very powerful person with a lot of IOUs and a reputation for being tough to get away with it,” Wead said.
If Paul wins the GOP nomination, however, he’d still face the same problem in the November general election — when everything would be on the ballot. In that case, he would need to drop his senatorial bid.
A third possibility would be for Paul to simply not appear on the Kentucky primary ballot as a presidential candidate.
He has to decide by late January 2016 whether he’ll file to be a candidate in the state’s presidential primary. That deadline comes before the Iowa caucuses — the first-in-the-nation nominating contest — but a nearly a year after Paul will have already been campaigning. By that time, he’d have a better sense of where he stands in the GOP field.
Yarmuth said he thinks that’s probably Paul’s best option.
“Just give up the Kentucky delegates and run for president in 49 states,” he said.
And based on previous primary calendars, the presumptive GOP nominee is usually decided long before May, so there’s a chance Kentucky would not even be in play for Republican candidates.