NPR logo Ky. GOP OKs Caucus Allowing Sen. Paul To Run For Re-Election And President

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Ky. GOP OKs Caucus Allowing Sen. Paul To Run For Re-Election And President

The Kentucky Republican Party has agreed to hold a presidential caucus for Rand Paul — but only if he shows them the money.

The party's executive committee approved a proposal on Saturday to hold a presidential caucus on March 5. The plan would let Paul run for president and re-election to his Senate seat at the same time without violating state law that bans candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election.

But the caucus could cost as much as $500,000, and the Republican Party has less than $170,000 in cash on hand according to its latest disclosure report. In a letter to party officials earlier this week, Paul claimed to have transferred $250,000 to the Republican Party to cover the cost of the caucus. But that turned out not to be true, angering some Republicans and jeopardizing Paul's support.

Saturday, after a more than four hour meeting that began with a prayer to God for wisdom and "that your will be done here today," Republicans agreed to approve the caucus on one condition: The state party had to have $250,000 in its bank account by Sept. 18 specifically reserved for caucus expenses. If the money is not there by the deadline, the caucus would be canceled and Kentucky would have its regularly scheduled primary.

Paul told reporters after the vote he was relieved, adding that getting the required two-thirds majority to approve the caucus was not easy.

"I think it is about something above and beyond one person. It really is about trying to grow the party and I'm thoroughly convinced that were I not in this race that this is just good for the Republican party," he said.

Paul said his most preferred method of raising the money would be to direct people that have already donated the maximum amount to his presidential campaign to donate to the state Republican party. But he said he would do whatever it takes to make it work.

State law bans candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election. Paul tried without success to convince the state legislature to change the law. A presidential caucus allows voters to vote for Paul for president on March 5 and then vote for him again for re-election to his Senate seat during the primary election on May 17.

Saturday's vote passed 111-36, avoiding a potential embarrassment to Paul's presidential campaign. His plan, had the caucus failed, would have been to run for re-election to his Senate seat in Kentucky while running for president in the other 49 states.

Most committee members said their vote was motivated not by Paul's candidacy, but by a desire to make Kentucky a player in presidential politics. That's why Republicans crafted the caucus to appeal to as many of the 17 declared Republican candidates as possible. The plan calls for Kentucky's delegates to be split proportionally rather than "winner takes all," and candidates only need to get 5 percent of the vote to qualify for delegates. That's a threshold much lower than other primary states.

"This is not about Sen. Paul in my mind. This is about making Kentucky relevant," committee member Troy Sheldon said. "I think it's the best thing for voters."

Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's chief election official, said in a news release the caucus would "disenfranchise over 1.2 million Republican voters."

"One candidate should not be able to buy an election," Grimes said. "Democracy demands that all eligible Kentuckians be a part of the election process. That didn't happen today and won't happen with a caucus."

The caucus would operate much like a primary election, with voters attending polling places to cast their ballots. The difference is there would be a lot fewer polling places, in some cases only one per county, and voters can cast their ballots from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time instead of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Also, representatives from various presidential campaigns would be allowed to talk to caucus goers and try to win their votes. Military and other overseas voters could vote absentee.

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