Rand Paul’s presidential campaign may begin with a legal battle.
A Kentucky law currently prevents the senator from appearing on the same ballot twice, which would, in 2016, prevent Paul from running for a second term in the Senate at the same time that he appears on the ballot in his home state as a presidential candidate. Earlier this spring, the senator pushed unsuccessfully for the Kentucky legislature to clarify that the law applies only to state office. Democrats control the state house, and they let Senate Bill 205, which would “allow a candidate’s name to appear on a voting machine or absentee ballot twice if one or both of the offices sought is a federal office,” languish until the legislative session came to an end last month.
The Kentucky legislature doesn’t reconvene until next year, and Paul’s fate may hinge on which party seizes control of the state house in November. That’s one reason he will be campaigning hard for Kentucky house candidates this fall. If Democrats retain control of the house, they are likely to ignore the bill once again. “I don’t think you’ll ever see it pass the house in the house’s current makeup,” says Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for Kentucky house speaker Greg Stumbo.
“We kind of take the position over here that a man [who] can’t decide which office he wants to run for isn’t fit to hold either office,” Stumbo told the Lexington Herald-Leader in March.
Democrats have controlled the Kentucky house for over 90 years, and it’s one of the only state legislative chambers in the South not controlled by Republicans. Paul is looking to help change that. “Would it be easier to get [the bill] through a state house that’s Republican? Absolutely, and that’s one of 50 reasons why it’d be better to have a state house that’s Republican,” says Doug Stafford, Paul’s senior political adviser.
But the Paul camp says it won’t hesitate to challenge the statute in court if the legislature won’t budge. Stafford says he’s “confident” Paul would prevail in a legal battle. “The law as it’s written really couldn’t and shouldn’t apply to a federal office,” he says, though he concedes that a bill “clarifying the law is a lot easier than a court case.”
A handful of states have laws like Kentucky’s, and Paul is not the only likely 2016 presidential contender who will face the restriction. Florida has a similar law on the books, and the state’s first-term senator, Marco Rubio, has already declared that if he runs for president — a decision he has said he will make next spring — he will not seek reelection to the Senate. He called Florida’s statute the “right law,” telling radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt last month, “I think, by and large, when you choose to do something as big as that, you’ve really gotta be focused on that and not have an exit strategy.”
For Paul, the optics of a court challenge could be tricky. The senator, a darling of the tea-party movement, which rose in part to protest what it perceives as the self-interest of career politicians, risks rubbing his base the wrong way. “I particularly think that it’s going to be hard for him to explain that to his core constituency, which is people who are suspicious of government to begin with,” says Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman. “I thought that Rubio was really smart when he preemptively said that for him, it would be up or out. I think that’s what people want.”
The “up or out” prospect, though, may be more painful to Paul than to his potential rivals. As a first-term senator, he has used his national platform to preach some of the libertarian gospel advocated for so long by his father, former Texas representative Ron Paul. As a spokesman for libertarian ideas, he has been far more successful than his dad, galvanizing Republicans around a filibuster over the potential use of drones against American citizens on American soil, decrying mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, and filing a class-action lawsuit against President Obama and the National Security Agency over the government’s bulk collection of cell-phone data.
The elder Paul ran for president three times — first, in 1988, on the Libertarian-party ticket — as a means of broadening the libertarian base. He was a prodigious grassroots fundraiser, and the political organization he built across the country remains mostly intact. “Building a national libertarian movement has been the multi-generational calling of the Paul family,” Weber says. “Certainly for Ron Paul and perhaps now for Rand Paul there is perhaps a broader objective” to a presidential bid, Weber says: to wit, building a national movement.