Rand Paul

Rand Paul faces a can of worms in seeking to run for two offices

Maybe Rand Paul can run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and somebody named Shmand Shmaul can run for president.

As ridiculous as that sounds, it's about the only solution that hasn't been floated by the senator's team as they look for ways around the Kentucky law that prohibits a candidate from appearing on the same ballot twice.

Change the law, go to court, hold a Republican caucus instead of a primary election, target Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes for defeat, run a placeholder on the ballot — do any of those sound like good answers?

That can of worms popped wide open Tuesday when Paul's senior adviser, Doug Stafford, held a call with national and Kentucky reporters to officially announce Paul is running for re-election to his U.S. Senate seat, which was first reported by the Herald-Leader Monday night.

Stafford, it seems, is nothing if not an optimist. When Tuesday's conference call was opened up for reporters' questions, Stafford took the first question about Paul's ballot problem by responding that "everybody obviously probably has the same questions so I'll try to address that in one answer, hopefully."

Those hopes were quickly dashed despite Stafford's argument that if Paul chooses to run for president "there are multiple opportunities and avenues" available for him to do so.

Stafford took 18 questions. Nine of them were about the ballot issue, one was about how effectively Paul can serve as a senator while running for president, one was about whether Paul prefers caucuses over primaries, one was about whether he anticipates a primary challenge and three were about why Paul was making the announcement through an aide in Washington, D.C., instead of at an event in Kentucky.

And that's the problem facing Paul and his team — there are no easy answers to the ballot issue. There are only questions. Tough questions.

If Paul takes it to court, does he win? Does he lose? Or does he get bogged down by another endless process story that repeatedly highlights the efforts of a states' rights champion to sue his home state over whether or not it can enact and enforce its own laws?

Would replacing Grimes with a Republican secretary of state change anything for Paul?

This idea, first floated in a National Journal story that appeared Tuesday morning, seems like a stretch.

Grimes was weakened considerably in her landslide loss to incoming U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Exit polling on Election Day showed Grimes was viewed favorably by only 40 percent of voters and unfavorably by 57 percent.

Beating her, if she even runs for re-election, might be a good move for Republicans, but it's hard to see how it would help Paul with his conundrum.

If a Republican secretary of state put Paul's name on the ballot twice, it's a safe bet the Democrat running against him, or maybe a Democratic attorney general, would file a legal challenge before the ink was dry.

"I doubt Paul can get the Kentucky government to excuse him from the ban on being on the ballot twice," said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

There is also a danger, inherent in all of Paul's options, that the senator and his team come across as self-absorbed and ambitious to the point of reckless in their effort to run for office twice in the same year.

As State Auditor Adam Edelen put it recently, Paul runs the risk of coming across to Kentucky voters as "too cute by half."

"That's not something that was on my mind," Stafford said when asked about that possibility. "But again, there are many options available. Some of them are easier than others. There may be some that I might have a preference on, but I'm not going to say that right now."

What appears to be Plan A is a Kentucky Republican caucus that would be held shortly after Super Tuesday in March but long before the traditional primary election date in May.

Paul's advisers and state Republicans don't see any statutory prohibition against holding its presidential nominating contest earlier than the May primary. They also haven't produced any kind of concrete proposal that would answer the myriad questions about such a move.

Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said Tuesday that "this is obviously a decision that has to be made by the governing committee of the Republican Party of Kentucky, and I'm sure they'll be willing to have the discussion and I'm sure they'll have a lot of questions."

For example: How much would it cost? Can the state party afford it? How will 1.1 million Kentucky Republicans feel about a change that is almost guaranteed to be less convenient than driving to the local church basement and pulling a lever?

"Until something specific is put before them, I can't predict what will happen," Robertson said.

What's more, the concerns for Paul and the concerns for state Republicans are not necessarily aligned.

Paul's efforts to find a solution for the spring could cause his party some real heartburn in November.

If Paul gets on the ballot to run for U.S. Senate — something Stafford said Paul is "100 percent" going to do — and then wins the Republican presidential nomination, would Republicans have any avenue to put forth another Senate candidate? Could they lose the seat on a technicality? Is there any chance in the universe that McConnell, trying to protect his new majority, would let that happen?

That concern isn't lost on Stafford, who said Tuesday that Paul "will work with Sen. McConnell to make sure that Sen. McConnell, as the new majority leader, gets to keep that title after the 2016 elections."

How? Well, that's a good question.

Keep in mind that this issue has been discussed for more than a year. It was in March that the Republican-led state Senate passed a bill to provide "clarity" about whether Paul could run for both offices at the same time, only to see it die in the Democratic-led House.

Clarity has yet to materialize, and it's far from assured that a decision to run for president by Paul in the spring will do anything to bring the picture into focus.

"You could probably spend the rest of the day coming up with hypotheticals for us," Stafford conceded.

So maybe it's not too early to start looking out for Stand with Shmand bumper stickers.

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