As Sen. Rand Paul prepares to make his long-awaited announcement Tuesday that he'll seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the Kentuckian will almost certainly get a big campaign boost in his home state: a change in state party rules to permit him to seek re-election to his Senate seat while running for president.
Under Bluegrass State election law, a candidate currently is prohibited from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election year. Last month, acting on a motion by Republican National Committeeman (and former Republican National Chairman) Mike Duncan, the state GOP's leaders voted unanimously to end participation in the May presidential primary and instead elect national convention delegates through statewide caucuses run by the party.
The party's state central committee still has to act on this, but it is widely thought to have no difficulty at the next scheduled committee meeting this summer.
"So, Rand will be able to meet the filing deadline for re-election [to the Senate] in January and be renominated in the primary May 17," Kentucky state Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer told Newsmax, adding that the senator will at the same time be competing in the Republican presidential contest.
Without a presidential primary that same day, he added, "Rand's name appears on the ballot only once and he is in full compliance with the law."
Thayer spoke to Newsmax on Monday shortly before leaving for Louisville to attend Paul's announcement for president on Tuesday. He recalled how last year he tried to persuade the state Legislature to change the law and permit candidates to run for two offices at once. But Thayer's effort was thwarted by Speaker Greg Stumbo and the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives.
"Look, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone from Kentucky," Thayer said, "and I was trying to help one of our own run for president."
The first time someone sought both national office and a U.S. Senate seat at once was in 1960, when the Texas Legislature changed state election law to permit then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson to run for re-election and also be on a national ticket. In November of that year, Johnson was elected vice president on John F. Kennedy's ticket and would have won his Senate seat by a smaller-than-usual margin of 59 percent to 41 percent (over Republican John Tower, who later won the seat in a special election).
Since then, three other Democratic senators have been vice presidential nominees while running for re-election: Lloyd Bentsen of Texas in 1988, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in 2000, and Joe Biden of Delaware in 2008.
No Republican senator on a national ticket has sought re-election simultaneously.
Although Barry Goldwater's backers wanted him to do that in 1964, the senator did not run for re-election to his Arizona Senate seat because "he had severely criticized Lyndon Johnson, who in 1960 had been a candidate for re-election to the U.S. Senate while at the same time running with Kennedy for the office of vice president," wrote Goldwater's close political associate Steve Shadegg.
The approach of Paul and his supporters toward his seeking both offices differs sharply with that of fellow presidential prospect and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
If I make that decision [to run for president], it will not be with the intention of looking for a Plan B if it doesn't work out," Rubio told Newsmax, "My plan is not to run for president and, if I don't succeed, then to qualify for the Senate. That is not my intention at all.
"My intention is if I run for president, to run for president."
Thayer said he based his change in party rules to permit Paul to run for both offices "on the same law in Wisconsin under which Paul Ryan could run for re-election to the House and vice president in 2012."
A poll completed in February and conducted for the The Louisville Courier-Journal, The Lexington Herald-Leader, WHAS-TV in Louisville and WKYT-TV in Lexington, showed nearly two-thirds of registered voters in Kentucky were opposed to changing the rules to help Paul seek two offices at once.
Regardless of whether he makes it to the national ticket, Paul is expected to face spirited Democratic opposition for his seat. Among Democrats mentioned for the race are Kentucky Secretary of State (and 2014 Senate nominee) Alison Lundergan Grimes, state Auditor Adam Edelen, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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