Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) avoided a major headache Saturday after the Kentucky Republican Party approved a rule change that will allow him to run for president while seeking reelection to his Senate seat.
“I applaud the Republican Party of Kentucky on their decision to hold a caucus in the upcoming Republican presidential cycle,” Paul said in a statement. “The people of Kentucky deserve a voice as the GOP chooses their next nominee, and holding a caucus will ensure that Kentucky is relevant and participates early in the process.”
State law in Kentucky bars a person from appearing on an election ballot as a candidate for two different offices. So if Kentucky Republicans were to choose their nominees for president and Senate in a primary election, Paul could not run for both. By approving a caucus to select a presidential nominee, the Republican Party has cleared the way for him.
The party’s central committee set Kentucky’s first-ever presidential caucus for March 5, 2016. The vote was 111 to 36, a stronger showing than expected, after a drama that took most of the day — finishing just 20 minutes before the meeting had to end. Two-thirds of the central committee were needed to approve the caucus.
Paul himself attended the vote at Frankfort, Kentucky’s Capital Plaza, lobbying in person for the right to remain a 2016 candidate without further turmoil. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has endorsed his colleague’s presidential bid, supported the caucus and dispatched his state director to say so at the meeting.
Paul’s presidential campaign e-mailed Kentucky supporters to ask whether they would help organize a caucus. “Moving the primary to a caucus is a great help to my campaign,” Paul wrote, “and I appreciate the people of the Republican Party in Kentucky working on this with me.” On Thursday, a Facebook post and Eventbrite link were created to promote a “stand with Rand” rally in support of “the first-ever Kentucky Republican Presidential Caucus.” On Facebook, the announcement was “liked” more than 1,000 times and shared more than 100 times.
That had been Paul’s message all year, losing resonance as his presidential ambitions lost velocity. In March, Paul persuaded all 54 members of the executive committee to appoint a study group that could vet the caucus proposal. In April, he launched his White House bid at a rally that drew out most of Kentucky’s top Republicans. A rough summer followed, culminating in an August that saw the heads of Paul’s super PAC indicted in a bribery scheme and a debate performance that hit all of Paul’s marks but failed to move his numbers. Within days, members of the executive committee were talking on the record about whether a caucus was worth an expected six-figure cost.
Paul’s team moved quickly to soothe nerves. While the candidate himself was in Haiti to perform pro bono eye surgeries, his campaign distributed a letter to central committee members about how he could foot the caucus bill.
“I have transferred $250,000 in a [Republican Party of Kentucky] account to begin the funding,” Paul wrote. “I also pledge to you that I will raise or transfer in another $200,000 at a date agreed upon by my team and RPK.”
Yet even that letter left wiggle room for the Paul campaign. The money would be spent only if “the caucus is an absolute legal certainty and the funds are shown to be needed.” The senator and his staff always had backup plans, and the senator himself was suggesting that caucusgoers could fund much of the process.