POLITICS: White House

Rand Paul's dilemma: Choosing between the Senate and the White House

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,White House,Kentucky,2016 Elections,Rand Paul,Becket Adams

Sen. Rand Paul may have to choose between keeping his seat in the U.S. Senate and gambling on the White House in 2016. As of now, the Kentucky Republican cannot have it both ways.

Kentucky law states that “no candidate’s name shall appear on any voting machine or absentee ballot more than once,” except in special cases — none of which apply to Paul.

Further complicating matters is that the state's deadline for filing to run for U.S. Senate comes just before the first 2016 presidential primary is expected to take place. If that schedule holds, Paul wouldn't have the option of seeing how he does in the early primaries before deciding on a Senate re-election bid.

True, Kentucky's law means Paul is theoretically eligible to run for president in other states, but he cannot appear as a senator and presidential candidate on the state's ballot. And although Paul has claimed in the past that he intends to run for re-election to the Senate, recent behavior clearly indicates that he is interested in the White House.

This is almost certainly why Paul has lobbied to have Kentucky lawmakers pass a measure that would allow him to run for president as a senator. He wants it both ways, to have something to fall back on in the event his campaign for the White House fails.

Paul came close to having it his way. The state's Republican-controlled Senate passed a fix that would have allowed him to run for both offices simultaneously, but it came up short thanks to the Democratic-controlled House.

With a possible legislative fix off the table until Kentucky lawmakers reconvene early next year, Paul must now look ahead and decide if he'd rather stay on serving the people of his state or whether he'd take his chances on a run for the Oval Office.

The problem for the Tea Party senator lies in the timeline to make his decision.

The deadline for filing in Kentucky is on the last Tuesday in January 2016. And as of now, no primary will be held earlier than Feb. 1, Raffi Williams, the Republican National Committee deputy press secretary, told the Washington Examiner.

Paul has to play it cool, because he doesn't want to throw away what's likely a very safe Senate seat that provides a significant platform for him to advance his brand of Republicanism. But in the meantime, the uncertainty created by Paul's situation would complicate his efforts to attract donors and endorsements away from GOP presidential opponents who are able to commit to seeing their presidential runs through until the end.

This isn't to say Paul has no shot at launching a successful White House bid even after holding off until the last minute, vacillating between keeping his Senate seat and making a play for the Oval Office.

This will make a campaign for the White House difficult, sure, but it can be done, GOP strategist Rick Wilson told the Examiner.

“It seems attractive to hold out 'above the fray,'” Wilson said, “but that sort of thing has become increasingly difficult in the modern era.”

“Also,” he added, “January is a long way off. A lot can happen between now and then to help Paul make up his mind. … what he may need to do until then is some heavy-duty nodding and winking."

Recall: George H.W. Bush won the White House after launching his campaign just before the primary, Wilson continued.

“Look, we've faced this problem in the past,” he added. “It can be done, but it will be difficult.”

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