Rand Paul's biggest political decision is approaching: whether to run for president in 2016 or focus solely on re-election to his U.S. Senate seat. A Republican lawmaker from his home state wants to free him from the potential dilemma by letting him run for both.
State Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said Thursday he wants to clarify that current Kentucky law, which prevents someone from running for multiple offices, does not apply to federal elections.
A bill he introduced would allow candidates' names to appear twice on the same ballot if one or both offices sought are federal offices.
"He (Paul) is the impetus for it, but it could affect anyone in the federal delegation," said Thayer, R-Georgetown, who introduced the bill in the GOP-led Kentucky Senate.
He waited until the last day Senate bills could be introduced in the current legislative session to bring it forward. The 60-day session is two-thirds complete. Thayer said he was approached by Paul's staff about the legislation and later spoke several times with Kentucky's freshman senator about it.
Paul, a Republican who rose to national prominence as a tea party favorite, is considering a run for the White House in 2016. The son of ex-U.S. Rep. and former presidential candidate Ron Paul has visited early primary and caucus states to gauge support for his own possible presidential run.
He also will be up for re-election to the Senate in 2016. Paul has said he has not made any decision about running for president.
"He's 100 percent committed to running for re-election to the Senate," Paul spokesman Dan Bayens said. "Regardless of what other decisions he makes, he'll be on the ballot for Senate in Kentucky."
Another Paul staff member said the senator believes he can legally run for two federal offices at the same time but wants to clear up any doubts with Thayer's bill.
"Federal law governs federal elections, and the Supreme Court has made it clear that states cannot impose additional qualifications beyond those in the Constitution," said Doug Stafford, a Paul senior adviser. "We are not seeking to change the law, but rather to clarify that the Kentucky statute does not apply to federal elections. We thank Sen. Thayer for taking this step in clarifying this issue."
If the Republican-run state Senate passes the bill, it faces an uphill struggle in the Democratic-led state House.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo took a swipe at Paul, saying a candidate ought to be able to choose which office to seek.
"If he can't make up his mind on that, how can he care for the people's business?" Stumbo said.
Republicans are making a strong push to take control of the state House in this year's election. If they succeed in doing so, the bill's chances would drastically improve in the 2015 legislative session, still giving Paul plenty of time to file for both races in 2016 if he chooses to do so.
If Paul ends up juggling dual campaigns, it would not be the first time a nationally prominent politician has done so in the same year.
Joe Biden was re-elected to the Senate in 2008 in Delaware and resigned to assume the vice presidency he won in the same election. Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman ran for re-election in 2000 while teaming with Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore as his running mate. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan did the same thing while running as Republican Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 presidential election.
University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said Paul seemed to have higher aspirations "the minute he won his Senate seat" in 2010.
As to whether Paul would be hedging his bets by running for both offices, Voss said: "Obviously, an attempt at the presidency is a risky endeavor and most people who try don't succeed. So it often requires people to stick their necks out pretty far. Knowing you can keep your original job and still make the attempt certainly reduces the risk."
Asked what the Kentucky secretary of state's office would do if the election law isn't changed and a candidate filed for multiple offices on the same ballot, spokeswoman Lynn Zellen said: "I anticipate the office would seek guidance from the attorney general or the courts."
Kentucky's secretary of state is Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic front-runner seeking to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in one of the nation's most closely watched races this year.
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