Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rand Paul's 2016 Ballot Options in Kentucky

It warms FHQ's heart every time there are attempts made to find a workaround for the ballot issues Rand Paul faces in Kentucky next year. Josh Voorhees from Slate is the latest to volunteer his assistance to Paul 2016 (both for president and Senate). The thing about these pieces when they periodically pop up is that they either way over-complicate matters or miss pretty obvious alternative routes for the junior senator from Kentucky to take in running for two offices in 2016.

There are two parts to this, primary and general election. And there are different issues attendant to working around the "name can't appear more than once on a ballot" problem that are specific to each phase.

Let's look at the primary phase first.

In a perfect world -- from the Paul camp's perspective -- the Kentucky state legislature would pass legislation to create a separate presidential primary and move that election up to an earlier point on the primary calendar. That way, the senator would not appear on the consolidated primary ballot twice. However, Democrats in the Bluegrass state weathered the 2014 storm and managed to hold the Kentucky state House. Additionally, majority Democrats in the House subsequently balked at the idea of creating and funding a separate presidential primary just to benefit Senator Paul's political ambitions.

Given that partisan stalemate, what options are available to a dual Paul candidacy in 2016?1

The quickest, easiest fix is the one that Rand Paul was talking about on election night 2014. If the presidential primary cannot be separated from the other primaries, then Kentucky Republicans could simply shift the mode of delegate allocation from a primary to caucuses. That may be the best outcome for Senator Paul, but it may not be ideal to Kentucky Republicans who want to see the nomination process opened up to a broader Republican electorate.

Again, that's the easiest route, but let's assume that there are enough people against a primary-to-caucuses shift on the Kentucky Republican State Central Committee to block this move. All's lost, right? No. As Voorhees points out, Rand Paul could just sit the May Kentucky primary out and play the presidential nomination game in all the other states. He could, but that would be a rather strange, if not ridiculous, path to take. That strikes FHQ as a last, last resort, ranking after even the court challenges options.

Let's think about this for a second. It seems to FHQ that it was all the rage in late 2011, and my god, stretching into primary season in 2012, to devise some way for a Republican candidate not in the then in the race to enter, challenge the sure-to-falter/moderate Mitt Romney and win the nomination at the convention.2 But some of those lessons apply here.

One thing that FHQ has not seen discussed in the context of this Paul/ballot problem is the possibility of a write-in campaign during the primary. Its absence from the discussion may be for good reason: Kentucky law prohibits it. No candidate who is on the ballot elsewhere is eligible to be a write-in candidate.3 Voters can write the name "Rand Paul" in on the ballot in droves, but those votes would not be counted because Paul would not be eligible (having already appeared on the ballot as a senate candidate).

The other viable option -- if we're still assuming there is a consolidated May primary in Kentucky -- is to use the uncommitted option. If the race is still competitive in mid-May and Rand Paul remains one of the viable alternatives, then his campaign could urge supporters to vote the uncommitted line included on the Kentucky ballot -- the presidential preference portion of it anyway -- by law.4 This is not a foolproof fix -- there could be other uncommitted delegates not aligned with Paul -- but one would imagine that the Paul campaign could organize this and have its potential delegates file as uncommitted rather than for Paul. They would not be bound on the first ballot at the convention, but that is not likely to matter anyway (see footnote 4).

This seems far superior and more effective than sitting the Kentucky primary out. And such a move is not without precedent. The Obama campaign urged its supporters in Michigan to vote for "uncommitted" in 2008. The then-Senator Obama had his name removed from the Michigan ballot when it was clear that the Wolverine state would hold a non-compliant presidential primary in mid-January 2008.

As for the general election, that is a tougher nut to crack.

The write-in option is still a no-go here, there is no uncommitted option on the general election ballot, and skipping a state is not really all that workable in a fall presidential race. But game planning for the general election before the nomination is wrapped up is a bit of a double-edged sword in Rand Paul's case. To some extent it is counting your chickens before they hatch, but this ballot issue is something he would face in the primaries and the general election. There is just an easier fix in the primary phase that will not necessarily help with the general election part of the problem.

Not that these laws are enforced anyway, but Kentucky is one of the states that does not levy penalties against would-be "faithless electors". If Paul manages to get the Republican nomination there are some potential avenues opened to his campaign on that front.

If we're after a workaround for Rand Paul, though, that is much easier in the Kentucky primary. Well, it is doable in the primary. The general election is a different matter.

UPDATE (2/24/15): US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports the effort to shift the Kentucky presidential nominating method from a May primary to March caucuses. That would seemingly add some heft to the idea ahead of the Kentucky Republican Party Central Committee meeting on March 7.

1 FHQ will only focus on the options that do not go through the courts. Due to the time it would take to adjudicate a conflict between Paul and the Kentucky secretary of state's office, that is a channel of last resort for Paul. There are other more viable options available to the senator anyway.

2 Of course, no one else entered the Republican nomination race and Romney won the nomination.

3 This is relevant to the general election as well.

4 Those are big ifs. FHQ realizes talk of a brokered deadlocked convention is quite popular with such a wide open Republican race, but the invisible primary will winnow the field and with more than 30 primaries and caucuses potentially slated for the month of March, the 2016 Republican nomination race is likely to be over sooner rather than later. That more than likely means the nomination race will come to its conclusion before a May Kentucky primary.

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