FRANKFORT — State Sen. Damon Thayer introduced a bill Thursday afternoon that would clear the way for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to seek re-election to the Senate and run for president on the same Kentucky ballot in 2016.
Thayer, R-Georgetown, and other allies of Paul said the proposal would make clear that an existing state law prohibiting candidates from appearing twice on the same ballot applies only to those seeking state and local offices.
Paul, who is openly flirting with a run for the White House in 2016, and his supporters say he already has the ability to pursue both seats at the same time, but the legislation filed Thursday would thwart any legal challenges to his potential multiple candidacies.
The U.S. Supreme Court, they said, already ruled on the matter when it decided in 1995 that an Arkansas state law imposing term limits on federal officials was unconstitutional.
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"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, Paul's senior adviser.
Stafford said Paul's supporters "are not seeking to change the law, but rather to clarify that the Kentucky statute does not apply to federal elections."
Lynn Zellen, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, whose office is in charge of elections, said that if a candidate filed to run for two federal offices at the same time, Grimes would likely "seek guidance from the attorney general and or the courts."
Stafford said Paul is grateful to Thayer for introducing the measure. Thursday was the final day to introduce new bills in the state Senate this year.
Thayer said later Thursday that Paul winning the Republican presidential nomination "is not an outside chance."
"In many places he is listed as the frontrunner, both in quantitative polls and qualitative analysis by pundits," Thayer said. "If he wins the Republican nomination, I think it's important to give Kentuckians a chance to vote for or against someone from their own state."
Paul has said he is undecided on whether he will run for president and won't make a decision until after the midterm elections in November.
Dan Bayens, Paul's spokesman, said the senator is "100 percent committed to running for re-election to the Senate."
"Regardless of what other decisions he makes, he'll be on the ballot for Senate in Kentucky in 2016," Bayens said.
The bill appears to have little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled House, with Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, saying that "we kind of take the position over here that a man (who) can't decide which office he wants to run for isn't fit to hold either office."
While Stumbo's opposition is hardly surprising, what has caused consternation among allies of Paul's is what appears to be a small group of Senate Republicans who oppose the bill.
State Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, said Thursday he remains "personally opposed" to the bill.
Girdler called Thayer his friend but said he doesn't "believe that you should be able to run for two offices at the same time."
"One thing that we do have in common on this is that we both would love to see our next president be from the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Girdler said of Thayer. "However, I just disagree with the means to the end."
Thayer said U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who enjoys a key endorsement from Paul this year, is "strongly behind this," making calls to Republican state senators, including Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, in recent days.
"I know he's in favor of this, and he's been working behind the scenes to try to help," Thayer said.
Stivers declined to say whether he would support the bill.
"It will be something for discussion," he said.
Thayer acknowledged Thursday that the chances of the bill reaching Gov. Steve Beshear's desk were "quite small."
"We're used to Speaker Stumbo killing lots of good Republican bills down there," Thayer said of the House.
The senator added that he thinks "this is actually a bipartisan bill because it could effect a Democrat."
"For example, what if the Democratic nominee for president decides that John Yarmuth would be a good selection to be their running mate?" Thayer said. "This would allow him to run for Congress and vice president."
Stumbo scoffed at the idea that the bill could help Kentucky Democrats.
"I don't know of any Democrats that are in that situation," Stumbo said. "Most of us know which office we want to run for."