Though U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is generating national buzz as he flirts with running for the White House in 2016, voters in Kentucky are not as enthused by the idea, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll.
Kentucky voters still have an overall positive view of Paul, but they're divided and lukewarm about what Paul should do in the future, the poll found.
Two-thirds of respondents did agree on one thing about the senator: They do not support changing Kentucky law to allow Paul to run for president and his Senate seat simultaneously in 2016.
The poll was conducted Aug. 25-27 by SurveyUSA and sponsored by the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
The survey of 647 registered voters found that 39 percent have a favorable view of Paul compared to 32 percent who hold an unfavorable view.
"I like him because he speaks his mind," said Marylou Givan of Hardin County, a poll respondent who agreed to a follow-up interview with the Herald-Leader. "And I would walk 20 miles to hear a man who was telling the truth, as Henry David Thoreau says. I want action, and he seems to be a man of action."
Paul has taken a number of steps to position himself to run for president in 2016 all the while maintaining that he fully intends to run for re-election to his Senate seat the same year.
According to the Bluegrass Poll, 22 percent think Paul should run for president, 24 percent think he should run to defend his U.S. Senate seat, 15 percent said he should pursue both and 33 percent said he shouldn't run for either.
In a February Bluegrass Poll, the same question was asked of only Republican respondents. At the time, 33 percent said they wanted Paul to run for president, 24 percent wanted him to run for re-election, 23 percent wanted him to run for both and 16 percent didn't want him to run at all.
Those numbers were similar among Republican respondents in the latest poll. Among Republicans, 33 percent favored Paul running for president, 31 percent said they want him to run for re-election, 19 percent said both and 11 percent said neither.
More than half of Democrats — 51 percent — said Paul shouldn't run for either office, but 16 percent said he should run for president, 18 percent said he should run for his Senate seat and 10 percent said he should run for both.
Among independents, 19 percent said Paul should run for president, 23 percent said he should run for the Senate, 22 percent said both and 28 percent said neither.
More troubling for Paul is the state law that prohibits candidates from appearing on the same ballot twice.
The senator's political team believes that the law is unconstitutional, arguing that federal laws should govern federal elections. But allies of Paul's in the Republican-led state Senate tried in the last legislative session to pass a bill that would have made clear Paul could run for both offices at once.
It died in the Democrat-led House, an outcome that the overwhelming majority of Kentucky voters appears to support.
In the latest poll, 66 percent of respondents said the law should not be changed to allow Paul to run for both offices at the same time. Only 27 percent said they favor changing the law, and 7 percent said they weren't sure.
Worse yet for Paul, 54 percent of Republicans surveyed oppose changing the law, compared to 36 percent who favor the change.
"Why change the law for him?" said Marilyn Miller of Louisville.
Paul's highest favorable numbers come from the western region of the state, where 46 percent hold a favorable view to 28 percent unfavorable. But even there, only 32 percent of respondents support changing the law to let Paul run for both offices at once.
Stephen Voss, a professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, said the poll is a "mixed bag" for Paul.
"Kentuckians clearly do not want Rand Paul mounting a presidential bid at the same time he tries to keep his Senate seat," Voss said. "Even if we leave out the third of voters who just do not like him, the vast majority of Kentuckians feel he should choose which job he wants and pursue it, and they oppose changing the law so that he can have his cake and eat it, too."
Voss warned that the senator's polling could entice challengers. Among Democrats, State Auditor Adam Edelen and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer have been mentioned as potential candidates who might vie for Paul's Senate seat.
"Paul's overall support in Kentucky is okay, but not terribly impressive, so I'd expect him to attract serious opposition in a Senate contest," Voss said. "That's another reason he probably should think twice about running for both the Senate and the presidency in 2016. The last thing a presidential candidate needs is a high-quality opponent keeping him on the defensive at home when he needs to focus on the big away game."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com