Rand Paul's summer just went from bad to worse.
After a series of missteps and frequent bad press, the Kentucky senator already was limping into the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle.
But on the eve of that gathering in Cleveland, Paul got even more bad news: Two longtime allies and the top figures at his super PAC were indicted for their alleged roles in a 2012 bribery scandal.
Jesse Benton and John Tate, who head Paul's PAC America's Liberty, were indicted on a laundry list of charges stemming from their time with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Benton and Tate were involved in bribing a former Iowa state senator to switch allegiances in the presidential race, then they lied to authorities about doing so.
Never miss a local story.
Benton, Tate and Dimitrios Kesari are all afforded due process and are innocent until proven guilty, but the laws of presidential politics work differently than the laws of the land.
For Paul, the unsavory development adds more unwanted baggage to a campaign that has struggled to find relevance in a crowded field overshadowed by the surprising strength of Donald Trump.
Like the rest of the Republican field not named Trump, Paul has looked for a way to stand out, to cut through the chaos and make some news that will reach voters.
This probably wasn't what he had in mind.
Making the cut to get in the debate had to be considered a rare silver lining for Paul's campaign, but now he will walk onto the stage in Cleveland with a rather large cloud over him.
Ron Paul and Roscoe Howard, Benton's Washington, D.C.-based attorney, openly questioned the timing of the announcement of the indictment, suggesting that the charges were revealed on the eve of the debate because the investigation was "politically motivated."
There's no guarantee that the indictments will be mentioned during the barbs exchanged Thursday night in Cleveland — with 10 candidates and a finite amount of time, nobody will get much of the spotlight — but there are a number of other ways the fallout can damage Rand Paul's hopes.
First and foremost, it just looks terrible.
Paul is running against the "Washington machine," having spent the past three years trying to position himself as the outsider candidate who can change the culture of Washington.
When some of your closest allies are indicted in an alleged bribery scandal, it's darn difficult to portray yourself as a hero of the heartland who is ready to clean up the nation's capital.
It's also worth noting that the crimes are alleged to have taken place in Iowa, where Paul was campaigning last weekend and where voters already are heavily engaged in the presidential election. Early Republican voters have a smorgasbord of candidates to choose from, so it's hard to imagine that they'll be falling over themselves to put their money and time behind a campaign dealing with such nightmarish headlines.
The indictments also could cripple Paul's already anemic fundraising.
The $3.1 million that America's Liberty PAC reported raising late last month paled in comparison to the hauls of super PACs supporting other campaigns, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ($103 million), U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas ($38 million) and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida ($16 million).
Benton and Tate already were having a hard time finding donors who could make enormous contributions to complement Paul's success with small donations. Now that they have been indicted, Benton and Tate's chore moves from difficult to likely impossible.
Paul has a rather daunting night ahead of him Thursday, both on the debate stage and in the spin room.
But given these latest developments, the big debate for Paul might involve whether he should continue to run for president.