Rand Paul searches for green light on caucus proposal

2015 CPAC straw poll winner is ...
2015 CPAC straw poll winner is ...


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(CNN)Rand Paul has made it no secret that he wants to run for president. He's been the most active potential candidate on the trail in the past two years, and his political team has already installed a baseline campaign operation.

But he faces a rare challenge. The first-term senator from Kentucky wants to keep his day job as a U.S. senator—a gig that's up for re-election in 2016—while simultaneously making a run at the White House.
Unfortunately for him, Kentucky law prohibits candidates from appearing on the same ballot twice. So Paul and his allies have devised a plan that would help him circumvent that electoral barrier.
On Saturday the first-term senator will go before the Kentucky Republican Party to propose moving the state's presidential preference vote from the May 2016 primary to a caucus two months earlier in March.
    That way his name won't appear twice on the May ballot, and Kentucky's presidential nominating contest could possibly become relevant in the national horse race for delegates with an earlier spot in the primary calendar.
    It sounds like a win-win situation, but it's an institutional change that would cost a lot of money, require months of planning and potentially lead to lower voter turnout.
    Despite the concerns, interviews with more than half a dozen members of the state party's executive committee, which will hear Paul's pitch on Saturday, suggest that the party is likely to move forward with the idea.
    The state's party chairman, Steve Robertson, has already appointed a task force to figure out how a caucus could be held in Kentucky. The executive committee will vote Saturday on the appointment of that team.
    Paul has spoken with a vast majority of the 54-member committee about his proposal, and he'll elaborate on many of the arguments he laid out in a letter last month to the committee.
    "My request to you is simply to be treated equally compared to other potential candidates for the Presidency," he wrote, noting that others, like Rep. Paul Ryan in 2012, have run for their current seat as well as an office on the presidential ticket at the same time.
    When the idea of a caucus was first floated, it was met with skepticism from within Republican circles, according multiple Kentucky GOP sources. But Mitch McConnell, the ultimate ringleader of GOP politics in the state, decided to endorse the plan, essentially providing Paul a green light and creating a game changer in the local debate.
    READ: Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll

    McConnell's chief of staff said last week that the Senate Majority Leader was doubtful about a caucus at first, but after a long discussion with Paul about the details, he backed the idea.
    "Not only would it be helpful to the Senator's presidential campaign but, as a one-time event paid for with funds that he'd raise, would do no damage to the state party or interfere with this year's state races," Brian McGuire said in a written statement.
    It's unclear just how much it would cost to transition from a presidential primary to a caucus—some estimates put it at as low at $500,000, while others have priced it closer to $2 million—but Paul has committed to helping raise a bulk, if not all, of the money for it through his national donor network.
    The daring proposal will no doubt bring critics who will argue that Paul is buying a caucus, but his team is willing to risk the political mud fight rather than mount a legal challenge to try and change the law, which could cost even more money.
    "We're going to work with Republican Party of Kentucky to do everything by the book in the most transparent way," said Dan Bayens, Paul's spokesman for his Kentucky operations.
    Other concerns are more logistical. It's unclear, for example, how absentee ballots would be cast, and urging voter turnout is already typically lower in caucus systems—which generally consist of in-person gatherings—than in primaries, in which voters cast secret ballots.
    "I don't want to disenfranchise voters, so that's something I have to work through in my mind at least," said Charlie Masters, an executive committee member. "To me that's the biggest negative."
    Caucus proponents are hoping that the excitement and media attention surrounding a March contest might help offset the normally lower voter numbers in caucuses.
    Jim Skaggs, another member on the committee, says he isn't exactly thrilled about the possibility of holding a caucus. But he noted that, in addition to McConnell, Reps. Thomas Massie and Ed Whitfield and other prominent elected office holders have sided with Paul on the issue. That's not necessarily because they like him, Skaggs said, but because "he's one of us."
    "That happens to be the way politics is, right or wrong," he added. "You stick with your own."
    READ: Rand Paul stakes out Libertarian claim in Iowa visit

    Another selling point to the party is that the move would only affect the presidential vote and won't interfere with other primaries for state and federal offices. Those would still happen in the May primary.
    Still, even if Paul were to win the nominations for both Senate and president next year, the caucus decision wouldn't solve the ballot problem in the general election, when Paul would have to appear on the ballot twice.
    But it's not lost on several committee members that his name could be well out of the presidential picture by March of next year. The primary calendar is still in flux, but by that point, Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada will have already held their contests, in addition to other key states with hoards of delegates.
    It's possible a frontrunner could get enough votes to force other candidates out by then, and if that frontrunner isn't Paul, as one committee member described it, this "could all be moot."