Sen. Rand Paul hasn’t announced his candidacy for president in 2016 just yet, but there are plenty of signs suggesting that he will. Politico’s Playbook, for instance, pointed out that a large group of aides with all the makings of a nascent presidential campaign staff gathered at The Liaison hotel on Capitol Hill for a candidacy they believe is a “95 percent certainty.”
But one thing’s been hanging over Paul’s and his supporters’ heads: how does he get around Kentucky law that bars a candidate from running on the same ballot for two different jobs? Paul, after all, has said multiple times he plans to run for re-election in 2016.
Paul could easily decide that he just wants to run for the presidency and not run for re-election. But his lawyers reportedly see a way for Paul not to give up his seat for his presidential run.
Kentucky law specifically says that “no candidate’s name shall appear on any voting machine or absentee ballot more than once” with an exception for special elections.
Republicans in the state were hoping to take control of the Kentucky state House of Representatives which would let them move a bill allowing a candidate —like a certain U.S. senator from Kentucky— to run for re-election and the presidency at the same time. Unfortunately for Republicans, though, the wave of victories in the midterm did not include the Kentucky House. Democrats still control the chamber and have no interest in passing the bill in question.
So Paul is left with a few options. Paul’s lawyers can file a lawsuit against the Kentucky law saying it’s unconstitutional.
“The basis of the lawsuit would be that the U.S. Constitution lists the qualifications for people to run for either U.S. House or Senate and they are either citizens of the United States, resident of the state, and for Senate 30 years of age,” University of Kentucky College of Law professor Josh Douglas told TPM. “So the argument here is that saying you can’t be a candidate for more than one federal office is an additional qualification so it violates the qualification clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
“There are several cases that say that a state has broad ability to dictate who appears on its ballot and also that there’s no fundamental right to be a candidate,” Douglas said, but warned that the argument, while it has merit, isn’t a “slam dunk.”
Though the suit has yet to be filed, likely defendants of the state’s law would include the state Board of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office (currently held by Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes), who have handled other election qualification lawsuits in the past.
There’s also another maneuver Paul could make. He could run in the presidential primary in all other states but Kentucky and then, if he got the nomination, resign his seat. Paul would also have to keep the Republican National Committee schedule in mind. The deadline for Senate candidates in Kentucky is six days before the Iowa caucuses, Jan. 26, though it may not be at all clear that Paul will be in or out of the running by then.
There’s also the possibility of moving Kentucky’s presidential nominating contest from a primary in May to a caucus in the later half of March, as NPR noted. If that happened Paul would be able to file his candidacy in January’s Kentucky primary and then get onto the ballot in the Senate primary, while also running for president.
Paul has discussed this with Steve Robertson, the chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party, according to NPR. The advantage here is that there wouldn’t have to be a change to Kentucky law. The change would just have to go through ratification of local and state GOP committees.