For the past year, Kentuckians have been divided over whether U.S. Sen. Rand Paul should run for re-election to his Senate seat, the White House, both offices or neither office.
According to the latest Bluegrass Poll, that division remains, even as Paul nears a final decision about whether to pursue the Republican presidential nomination.
The poll found that just under a quarter of Kentucky’s registered voters appear to support what many observers believe is Paul’s most likely course of action: running for both offices simultaneously in 2016.
Paul has already announced his re-election bid to the Senate next year, and as the snow melts and the calendar turns to spring, all signs point to a likely presidential run for Paul.
“He should be able to run for both if he wants to,” said poll respondent Charles Kitchens, of Brandenburg. “I doubt that he’s going to become president, but I don’t know that. It just depends on how people react.”
The Bluegrass Poll, conducted by SurveyUSA and sponsored by the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, asked 1,917 registered voters in Kentucky about the course they think Paul should pursue.
According to the poll, 19 percent said he should run for president, 19 percent said he should run for his Senate seat, 23 percent said both, 30 percent said neither and 9 percent said they were not sure.
Given the poll’s plus-or-minus margin of error of 2.3 percentage points, those numbers reflect little statistical change from last October, when the Bluegrass Poll asked the same question.
In that poll, which surveyed 704 registered voters just days before the midterm elections, 21 percent of respondents said Paul should run for president, 23 percent said he should run for his Senate seat, 13 percent said both and 33 percent said neither.
Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said that while the poll shows mixed results for Paul, it is difficult to gauge how voters would respond when the idea of a presidential run by Paul moves out of the realm of theory.
“Voters commonly show a reluctance to see their elected officials run for higher office,” Voss said. “We want them working for us and we get jealous if they start flirting with other voters. But does it matter electorally? I doubt it matters much. People often answer questions of principle in one way and then respond completely differently in practice.”
Voss added that the inclusion of Democrats in the survey makes it more difficult to get a clear view of how Paul’s supporters feel about his future plans.
He noted that a “portion of those voters are liberals or Democrats who are going to oppose him regardless, so their inclusion prevents the poll from focusing on the feelings of Rand Paul’s actual constituency.”
Almost half of Democrats – 44 percent – responded that Paul should not run for either office, but 20 percent said he should run for both offices, 12 percent said he should run for president and 14 percent said he should run for re-election.
Among Republicans, 25 percent said he should run for president, 27 percent said he should run for re-election, 28 percent said he should run for both and 13 percent said he shouldn’t run for either office.
Poll respondents who identified themselves as “strong” Republicans were most likely to say Paul should run for both offices, with 34 percent backing that option.
Follow-up interviews with voters who participated in the latest poll illustrate their sharp divide about what Paul’s political future should entail.
“I like what he stands for,” said respondent Imogene Dawson, of Whitley City. “I think he would give us what we need – better than what we have right now.”
Others were not as impressed by the state’s junior senator, including respondent Chuck Bison, who lives in Paul’s adopted hometown of Bowling Green.
“He’s a rabble-rouser,” Bison said. “He’s the little Napoleon.”
Bison said that by trying to run for both offices at once, Paul is trying to “manipulate” the political system.
“He’s done that his whole life. I’ve watched him here in Bowling Green,” Bison said. “I know what he’s about. All politicians do that [but] he’s a special breed.”
Paul and his staff have divided their attentions over the last year as they searched for ways around a Kentucky state law that prevents a candidate from appearing on the same ballot twice.
Last weekend, Paul appeared to solve at least part of that puzzle by convincing the Republican Party of Kentucky’s executive committee to give its initial approval for a presidential caucus next year, which would mean he could run for both offices without having his name appear twice on the traditional May primary ballot.
Paul had previously attempted to convince state lawmakers to change the law that prevents him from appearing on the same ballot twice, but that route continues to be unpopular with voters.
In the latest survey, 62 percent of registered voters said they oppose changing the law, 30 percent favored a change and 8 percent said they’re not sure. When the Bluegrass Poll asked the same question of voters in late August, 66 percent said no.