Rand Paul Asks Kentucky GOP for Presidential Caucus in 2016

by | February 13, 2015

By Sam Youngman

Looking for a greater voice for his state — and an advantage for his own likely campaign — Sen. Rand Paul is asking the Republican Party of Kentucky to create a presidential caucus in 2016 that would go earlier than its May primary.

In a letter this week, Paul told GOP leaders in his home state that an earlier presidential preference vote would give Kentuckians “more leverage” in the wide-open competition for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

And it could help him win that nomination, he said.

“You, as a member of the Kentucky Republican Central Committee, will be the one to decide if you want to help me get an equal chance at the nomination,” Paul wrote.

The letter went out to hundreds of other Kentucky Republicans ahead of the party’s 54-member executive committee meeting on March 7 in Bowling Green, where Paul will pitch the caucus idea to members for a vote.

Kentucky law prevents a candidate from appearing on the same ballot twice, and Paul and his allies have endeavored for more than a year to either change the law or find a loophole that would allow him to run for the White House and re-election to his U.S. Senate seat at the same time next year.

Paul’s supporters also maintain that the law is unconstitutional, suggesting it could be challenged in federal court.

However, if Kentucky Republicans decided their choice for the 2016 Republican nomination in an earlier caucus, his name still could appear for the Senate on a May primary for all other nominations.

Despite published reports to the contrary, Paul insisted “this idea did not originate with me, or even in this current cycle.”

“It has been suggested by others for several cycles that Kentucky has no influence on the presidential process because of our late primary,” Paul said. “By May 2016, the GOP will likely have decided its nominee, rendering our votes useless in deciding anything.”

In the letter, the senator talks at length about how holding a caucus for the Republican presidential nomination — nominations for other state and federal offices would be decided in the May primary — would benefit the party and his personal ambitions.

“As most of you know, moving up Kentucky’s presidential primary election would also allow me to make a run for the nomination and seek re-election,” Paul wrote.

Paul noted that Wisconsin is among those states that do allow a candidate to be on the ballot for two offices, and how it paid off when Rep. Paul Ryan was both up for re-election to the House of Representatives and the Republican Party’s nominee for vice president.

While “we were not successful in getting a Republican in the White House in 2012, we were able to keep Paul Ryan as a Republican leader in the House of Representatives,” Paul wrote.

“My request to you is simply to be treated equally compared to other potential candidates for the presidency,” he wrote.

In the letter, on stationery with a “Rand Paul U.S. Senate 2016” letterhead, Paul pledged to members that he will treat his “current job as seriously as I treated being a doctor while running for office in 2010.”

“If I choose to also seek the presidency, I will do so to serve the people of Kentucky and the ideas that I ran on and have worked for,” he wrote. “I believe I can keep helping the people of Kentucky as senator, but I think there is no doubt I could help them even more as president.”

While making the case that moving the caucus would be good for Kentucky, Paul emphasized in the letter that moving the contest “can be a one-time change.”

“If the party ends up preferring to go back to a primary for whatever reason, it can do so in subsequent years,” Paul wrote. “In fact, a primary would remain the default position under the law. Any change away from the primary in future years would require a new vote by party officers.”

It is unclear from the letter how a move to a caucus would help Republicans if Paul were to win the nomination for president.

Under Kentucky law, there is no provision for substituting candidates on the ballot after the filing deadline, which means the GOP probably couldn’t field another candidate for the U.S. Senate if Paul also won that primary election.

Since Paul began pushing the idea of a caucus, a number of Republicans have fretted that his maneuvering could end up costing them a Senate seat on a technicality.

It also is unclear how the party would pay for the caucus or whether other Republican candidates would feel compelled to campaign in Paul’s home state given his advantage here.

Paul’s staff said there would be more discussion of details at the March 7 meeting and that they expect to announce support for the idea from key GOP leaders in the coming weeks.

Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said Paul had asked for the meeting to be held in Bowling Green, where Paul lives.

Robertson said he thinks committee members will keep an open mind as they hear from Paul, but “our members will want answers to questions.”

“It is a policy-based decision, not a personality-based decision,” Robertson said.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau