LOUISVILLE, Ky. — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul mentioned Kentucky only once during a rollicking speech announcing his presidential candidacy that was heavy on broadsides against the Washington establishment. Nevertheless, he delivered a message that seemed directed to voters of the state that made him famous: I still need you. Just in case.
President isn’t the only office Paul is running for in 2016. If he does not survive the Republican primary and its dozens of potential candidates, he will ask voters to re-elect him to the Senate seat he first won in 2010. For now, he’s straddling a fine line.
Paul chose to announce his candidacy not in an early primary state or even in his home of Bowling Green, but in the largest media market in a state that only has eight electoral votes, is reliably Republican in federal elections and is not a factor in the chaotic presidential primaries.
“It’s going to be kind of an ongoing challenge to balance a presidential election and a Senate election. The battle field for the presidential election (is) not here. So he’s going to have to by necessity spend time in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada,” said Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University. “I would think they’ll make a conscious effort to emphasize the linkage to Kentucky.”
Paul was scheduled to fly to New Hampshire after the speech, followed by appearances in South Carolina and Iowa, three states whose early primaries help define the race. But Paul’s dual campaigns could potentially violate the state’s law barring candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election. The state Republican Party’s executive committee has already voted to change its rules for presidential nominations to allow for a caucus instead of a primary.
If he makes it to November, Paul will almost certainly face a legal challenge. Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state who is running for re-election after losing a high profile Senate race to Mitch McConnell last year, sent out a fundraising email after Paul’s event vowing she would “uphold the laws of the Commonwealth.”
Paul has said he plans to run for re-election regardless of the outcome of the presidential primary.
While Paul’s speech wasn’t focused much on Kentucky, much of the pre-announcement rally was. Most of the speakers were from Kentucky, including newly elected Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado from Lexington and the Rev. Jerry Stephenson, a black pastor from Louisville who said he was a lifelong Democrat until 2012. And in his speech, Paul mentioned Kentucky when talking about his plan to lower taxes in certain poor areas of the country.
“Kentucky is Rand’s home,” Paul spokesman Dan Bayens said. “It was important for him to begin his campaign here, with his family and friends and those who have been so instrumental in helping him get to this point.”
The message seemed to resonate with Chris Barker, a 24-year-old land surveyor from Ashland.
“Living in Kentucky, you don’t get to see a president announce his run very often,” he said. “And it just so happens he embodies everything I think a president ought to be.”
Speaking at an event In Nicholasville, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he did not think Paul’s bid for president would hurt his chances of keeping his Senate seat.
“I think we take it one step at a time,” McConnell said. “I’m confident if Rand is running for the Senate, he’ll be re-elected.”
The Kentucky announcement could also bring attention to the state’s Republican Party, which has dominated federal elections but been less successful in state races. Three of the four Republican candidates for governor attended the event, including James Comer, who was on a riser behind Paul during his speech. Candidates Hal Heiner and Matt Bevin planned private events before and after the announcement to take advantage of the large crowds. Will T. Scott was the only candidate not to attend.
“I’m out here working with the lunch pail Republicans,” Scott said.
Bruce Schreiner contributed reporting from Nicholasville, Kentucky.