FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make clear U.S. Sen. Rand Paul may run for two federal offices at once.
Household political names like Lyndon Johnson, Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan were bandied about during a brief debate, the heart of which is whether Paul can run for president and for re-election to his Senate seat on the same Kentucky ballot in 2016.
Kentucky's junior senator has said he is considering a run for the White House, but that he will definitely run for his Senate seat the same year, putting him at odds with a state law banning the same candidate from appearing on a ballot twice.
Paul and his allies believe the state law doesn't apply to federal elections, pointing to a Supreme Court ruling that said an Arkansas law instituting congressional term limits ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
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"We thank the Kentucky Senate for recognizing the need to clarify the law to avoid a conflict with the U.S. Constitution," said Doug Stafford, a senior advisor to Paul. "Federal law governs federal elections, and the Supreme Court has made it clear that states cannot impose additional qualifications beyond those in the Constitution. The vote today was a step forward in clarifying that the Kentucky statute does not apply to federal elections."
Two Democrats — Sens. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville and Robin Webb of Grayson — joined all but one Republican — Sen. Chris Girdler of Somerset — in voting for the measure, which passed 25-13.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo continued to scoff at the idea on Tuesday, saying shortly before the Senate session began that he didn't think the bill would pass the Democrat-led House.
A handful of Democrats spoke out against the bill, saying that Paul should have to choose which office he wants to seek or, as Sen. Ray Jones put it: "He needs to focus on Kentucky, and that's what he was elected to do."
"I saw recently he was up in Detroit speaking," said Jones, D-Pikeville. "The last I heard Detroit was not in Kentucky."
Arguing that the bill was bipartisan, Republicans pointed to U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth as an example of a Kentucky Democrat who could possibly be tapped to run for vice president while seeking re-election to his House seat.
Paul is enjoying a turn as frontrunner for the Republican nomination — "better than even odds to be the next president of the United States," said state Sen. Joe Bowen — after a CNN poll and two notable straw polls put the senator at the top of the field.
"We know there are 318 million people approximately in this country ... and right now you can make a legitimate list of 10 or 12 of them who have a chance to be the next president of the United States," said Sen. Damon Thayer, the sponsor of Senate Bill 205. "Sen. Paul is currently, according to polls and pundits, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to be president of the United States."
Thayer, R-Georgetown, emphasized that his bill would only clarify existing law in an effort to make sure no one can "deny the people of Kentucky an opportunity to vote for or against one of their own in 2016."