She won't be on the ballot, but Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, could be playing a role in the 2016 presidential election — by knocking out one of its biggest candidates. Grimes, who made an unsuccessful bid for Senate this fall, says she'll challenge Senator Rand Paul if he tries to simultaneously run for Senate reelection and president in 2016.
Rand Paul formally announced his 2016 Senate reelection campaign this month — and he is considered an early contender for the Republican presidential nomination. (He hasn’t formally thrown his hat into the ring yet, but all signs point to a run.)
There's one big problem: He can't do both. Kentucky law would forbid Paul running for two offices at the same time. He either can't go for president, or he has to give up his Senate seat, and risk losing both. “Well, the law’s clear. You can’t be on the ballot twice for two offices,” Grimes told WHAS, a Kentucky-based ABC affiliate, this week. "I will not be bullied… I will not hesitate to seek help and assistance and the opinion of the court."
Sen. Paul seems to disagree. He has told several news outlets he’s considered challenging Kentucky’s law in court. He's also got the advantage of being a powerful and well-connected Senator from a political dynasty (you might remember his dad, Ron) — and a Republican in a pretty red state.
This past March, the Republican-majority Kentucky Senate passed a bill that would change the election law so Paul could run for senator and president at the same time. But, Democrats ran the state’s House — and still do — so the bill never became a law.
In a November interview with Salon, Paul said it was unfair that states are inconsistent about whether candidates may run for two positions in the same election.
“There have been a number of people that have been on the ballot more than once and there is a fairness issue that we shouldn’t allow some states to do it and other states not to,” he said.
The one person who could stand in his way? The 36-year-old Democrat, Grimes. She ran and lost a Senate election bid to Sen. Mitch McConnell just last month — by 15 percentage points. She remains Secretary of State, though. In that position, she’s in charge of running elections in Kentucky, meaning she has the power to deny Paul his dual candidacies.
Sen. Paul told Salon he believes a legal challenge to Kentucky’s law would succeed, and said states don’t have the constitutional right to impose such restrictions on candidates for federal office. But, Joshua A. Douglas, an election law expert and professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, told Refinery29 that Paul’s potential legal challenge poses “an interesting argument, but probably not a winning one.”
Unsurprisingly, Paul also said in the Salon interview that he’d rather not take this fight to court. There are a couple of other ways he might be able to get around the law; for example, if the Republican Party chooses to have a convention or caucus to decide a 2016 candidate, instead of holding primaries, Paul wouldn’t end up on a primary ballot twice. He will likely decide whether to run for president and whether to bring a legal challenge to Kentucky’s law in spring 2015.
Grimes, who’s up for reelection next year and is also considering running for attorney general or governor in 2015, would have to be in office as secretary of state when Paul files as a candidate in order to impact his campaigns.
Even if Grimes isn’t in a position to make good on her promise, Douglas said any secretary of state would likely be legally obligated to deny Paul two candidacies in a state that clearly forbids it. “I would be surprised if any secretary of state did not enforce the law, which is very clear,” Douglas said.