Ky. GOP moves ahead with caucus, allowing Rand Paul to seek presidency and second Senate term

08/22/2015 04:58 PM

UPDATED FRANKFORT — The Republican Party of Kentucky’s central committee has approved a March 5 presidential caucus, clearing the way for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to continue his presidential campaign and defend his seat in Congress.

But Saturday’s 111-36 secret-ballot vote also came with a caveat: $250,000 must be in an RPK account by Sept. 18 or the caucus will be nixed.

Financing the caucus, which has been budgeted at $500,000, was a primary concern for some on the central committee. Members addressed the topic as part of an hour-and-a-half executive session, and Paul told reporters after the event that he expects to meet the funding requirement by the Sept. 18 deadline.

“We’ll transfer it when it’s ready,” he said, noting that donations can flow through RPK. “… Some people, you know, who have already given as much as they can give to my campaign can now give in addition to the party, so that would be our preferable way and we’ll start there, but we will do it however it takes to make it work.”

Paul, who had previously said $250,000 was ready for transfer after an affirmative vote Saturday, compared back-and-forth talks on the caucus proposal to serving on a jury, adding that he felt confident as Republicans moved to adopt the caucus via balloting versus raising their hands either for or against the plan.

“Ultimately I think people got to the point where they were very comfortable with the idea, and I think it is about something above and beyond one person,” the Bowling Green Republican said.

Although the proposal came as a result of Kentucky’s constitutional ban on candidates appearing more than once on a ballot, Paul predicted that holding a presidential caucus would bolster the party’s registration numbers.

“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, that we’ll be able to grow our list and excited people and get more people to turn out,” he said.

The plan, which more closely resembles the Kansas presidential caucuses than those in Iowa, had to earn two-thirds support among the 147 who cast ballots. Most counties would have at least one caucus polling station, and Kentucky’s presidential delegates would be divided proportionally by vote totals.

Numerous supporters stood behind Paul’s caucus proposal while some voiced their concerns.

Terry Carmack, state director for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, reiterated McConnell’s support for Paul’s presidential campaign as well as the caucus, “especially now that we have a funding mechanism in place.”

“On behalf of Sen. McConnell, he would certainly support this proposal,” Carmack said before the vote.

Some cited the potential economic boon that a wide-open presidential field could bring to Kentucky.

Troy Sheldon, 4th Congressional District chairman, said the state could attract as many as 10 presidential campaigns for the caucus. The field currently stands at 17, with Paul polling in eighth, according to an average by Real Clear Politics.

If that many come and spend $250,000 in Kentucky apiece, Sheldon estimated a potential $10 million economic windfall for the state.

He also touched on another theme echoed by caucus supporters: building excitement for the presidential race and increasing Republican voter registration. He used his 27-year-old daughter as an example, saying she’s registered independent and supports Paul’s father, former Texas congressman Ron Paul.

“There’s this whole group of people out there, 21 to 30, who think this is the best thing since sliced bread,” Sheldon said, “and the challenge that we have as leaders is how do we grow our party? I think this gives us an opportunity” to convince independents to change their party affiliation.

But Republicans will have a short window to increase their ranks ahead of a March 5 caucus.

Rules of the nominating process call for a registration deadline of Dec. 31, Harrison County GOP Vice Chair Sam Pierce said. According to the 2016 election calendar, the last day for voter registration in next year’s primary is April 18.

“That means anyone who moves into the state after Dec. 31 and before the election and is registered Republican will not be able to vote,” he said.

“It means all the people who turn 18, and that’s one thing. I’m afraid we’re going to lose an entire senior class of high schoolers because … in Kentucky if you turn 18 by the general election date, you can vote in the primary, but they won’t be able to vote, disenfranchised in a primary if we have a caucus.”

Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has continuously voiced opposition to a Republican presidential caucus, criticized the Republican move toward a caucus in a statement after the vote.

“It is unfortunate that today a few insiders were able to disenfranchise over 1.2 million Republican voters,” Grimes said. “One candidate should not be able to buy an election. 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.”

Republicans did not publicly address how it would generate the remaining cash for a presidential caucus, though that was part of the closed-door session of Saturday’s meeting.

RPK Chairman Steve Robertson, who presided over his final central committee meeting, said the Sept. 18 deadline “gave comfort to members,” but he declined to say whether the committee discussed the remaining caucus expenses behind closed doors.

The caucus is expected to cost $500,000 in all, and Paul has said additional cash would either be raised or offset by $15,000-per-candidate filing fees.

“I can’t discuss what was said in executive session, but certainly the motion is the motion,” Robertson said. “On Sept. 18 there’s an expectation that there’s $250,000 in a Republican Party of Kentucky bank account. If it’s not there, we automatically revert to a presidential-preference primary instead of a caucus, so I think today was a big win for everyone involved.”

2nd Congressional District Chairman Scott Lasley, who chaired the committee charged with crafting the caucus rules, said the $500,000 budget “is pretty accurate” and the committee is “confident the funding will be there to hold a successful caucus March 5.”

“The hard part begins now, so it’ll be a process of discovery,” he said, “but we think we should be in good shape.”


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