Rand Paul is in a bind about 2016. What’s the problem?

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky wants to run for reelection in 2016, but he's also considering a presidential bid. Kentucky won't allow him to run for both. But he's exploring options. 

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    Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky would probably like to vote for himself twice in 2016, but the state legislature won't let him do it. Here, he votes at Briarwood Elementary School in Bowling Green, Ky., Tuesday.
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Sen. Rand Paul, the darling of libertarian-leaning Republicans, appeared to win big on election night. He helped his fellow Kentucky Republican – Mitch McConnell – win reelection to the Senate, setting Senator McConnell on course to become majority leader. Senator Paul also stumped for other Republicans in more than 30 states. His party won control of the Senate.

But the GOP failed in Kentucky in a key way: The party did not win a majority in the state House of Representatives. And that complicates Paul’s political future.

Paul has already said he plans to run for reelection to the Senate in 2016, and he has made no secret of his presidential ambitions. But Kentucky doesn’t allow a candidate’s name to appear on a ballot more than once. So unlike Joe Biden (2008) and Paul Ryan (2012), whose home states (Delaware and Wisconsin) allowed them to run for Senate and House, respectively, while running for vice president, Paul is barred from doing that.

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Democrats in the Kentucky legislature’s lower chamber have said they won’t change the law. They’re hoping Paul will give up his Senate seat so he can run for president.  

But a new gambit may be under way: Switch Kentucky’s May 2016 GOP primary to a statewide caucus system – since most caucuses don’t involve ballots. Kentucky Republicans are considering the idea, which Paul reportedly discussed with the chairman of the state party Tuesday night. The party committee’s governing body would have to approve the switch.

“I’m sure they would be very open to having a discussion and debate,” Kentucky GOP chairman Steve Robertson told Politico. But, he said, there are questions about how it would work, and how much it would cost.

The party has until October 2015 to make a decision.

Another option might be for Paul not to compete for president in Kentucky – either in the primary or in the general election.  He would be giving up the state’s convention delegates, but Kentucky is a small state. Same with the general election ballot: If he won the nomination but kept his name off the ballot in Kentucky, he’d be giving up the state’s eight electoral votes. Such an approach would certainly invite lawsuits.

In any event, running for two major offices at once might just be too much.  

“I think that if Rand Paul tried to run for both Senate and president, it would be a nightmare for him,” says Stephen Voss, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “It would mean that on the national stage, there’d be a home-grown critic – a well-funded one, lobbing all kinds of attacks on him separate from what his presidential opponents were up to.”

Two other Republican senators are in a similar boat: Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio. They’re both up for reelection in 2016, and both are thinking of running for president. Senator Rubio has already said he won’t run for Senate if he decides to run for president – and Florida law doesn't allow running for two offices at once anyway.   

Senator Portman actually could run for both, but he says he won’t.  

“At this point, I’m planning to run for Senate in Ohio,” Portman told RealClearPolitics in August. “Your next question is going to be, ‘Can’t you do both?’ And the answer is, ‘Yes,’ but I wouldn’t. I think you need to focus.”

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