U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently announced his candidacy for re-election in 2016. Paul is also seriously considering a bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. However, Kentucky law only allows a candidate's name to appear on the ballot once in an election. Ironically, Paul could in fact run for both offices in Kentucky without violating Kentucky election law by running for re-election to the Senate and at the same time running in the presidential primary in every state except Kentucky. Although he would never be able to have his name listed on the ballot more than once, this tactic would enable him time to assess his chances in the presidential derby. If it becomes evident that he will not win the presidential primary, he could drop out of the presidential sweepstakes before the May 17th Kentucky Republican presidential primary and seek only re-election to the U.S. Senate.
American political history is littered with examples of politicians who ran for their current office as well as another office in the same election. Politicians who do this usually hail from a state where his/her party is electorally hegemonic, and where the candidates get re-elected without personally campaigning.
Paul is not the first Kentuckian or even the first member of his family to seek re-election to his current post concomitantly seeking the presidency or vice presidency. In 1824, Whig Henry Clay was re-elected to his U.S. House seat while losing the presidential election. Rand Paul's father, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), sought re-election to both the House and the Republican Presidential nomination under the "LBJ law." Although he lost the presidential nomination, Ron Paul won re-election to the House.
The genesis of the LBJ law dates back to 1959. In 1960, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) was up for re-election to the Senate. With the possibility that Johnson might seek the presidency the following year, the sympathetic Democratic-controlled State Legislature passed legislation allowing a politician to run for two political offices simultaneously. This benefited Johnson in 1960 as he sought both re-election to the U.S. Senate and the presidency. After failing to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, Johnson secured the vice presidential nomination. He subsequently won both the vice presidency and re-election to the U.S. Senate. Johnson then resigned from the Senate. Democratic Governor Price Daniels subsequently appointed former U.S. Senator William Blakley to fill the seat before a Special Election was held.
Other Texas officials have used the LBJ law to run for two offices concomitantly. U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) actually used the law twice. In 1976, Bentsen ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, declaring his bid in February of 1975. While he proved a voracious and efficacious fundraiser, he garnered less than two percent of the popular vote and even lost the Lone Star State Primary. However, Bentsen won re-election to the Senate by defeating U.S. Representative Alan Steelman (R-TX). Steelman tried to use Bentsen's primary loss in the state to show that he was unpopular in Texas. To his credit, Steelman maintained that Texans' feelings for the Senator "run from ambivalent to negative." Steelman, with very little money, ran a formidable race, garnering a respectable 43 percent of the vote against Bentsen.
In 1988, Bentsen was in the midst of a re-election campaign against U.S. Representative Beau Butler when Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis asked Bentsen to serve as his vice presidential runningmate. Bentsen was faced with the task of running for re-election in Texas, a conservative state, while seeking the vice presidency with the more liberal Dukakis.
After, Bentsen accepted Dukakis' offer to become his runningmate, he spent much time in Texas campaigning for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket, while rarely mentioning his Senate re-election bid. However, his re-election campaign ran television advertisements highlighting Bentsen's local accomplishments. San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros "quipped at a rally, "We have a very special opportunity, as Texans we get to vote for Lloyd Bentsen twice. We win, and the country wins and Lloyd Bentsen wins in 1988.''
Beau Boulter tried to tether Bentsen to Dukakis, saying of the pairing with the Massachusetts Governor: "It saved us a lot of money. People in Texas now realize that Lloyd Bentsen stands for the things that Michael Dukakis stands for." In addition, Boulter tried to exploit the fact that Bentsen was running for two offices, remarking: "Bentsen is an old-timey, elitist politician from the past. I think this is a power grab." In the end, the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost Texas by over twelve percentage points, while Bentsen was re-elected to the Senate by almost twenty points.
In 1996, U.S. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) used the LBJ rule to run for the Republican presidential nomination and for re-election. Failing to meet expectations, Gramm dropped out of the presidential race. Gramm had suffered an embarrassing loss in the Louisiana Primary. When asked if there was any resentment from Texas voters that he had initially tried to run for two offices, Gramm responded, citing past precedent: "Naaaaw, they weren't angry with Lloyd Bentsen when he did it twice. They weren't angry with Lyndon Johnson. They still elected them.'' Gramm was securely re-elected to the Senate.
In 2000, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) took some grief from his Senate colleagues for his failure to halt his Senate candidacy after being selected by Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore as his vice presidential runningmate. Had Lieberman dropped out of the Senate race, the party could have nominated someone else. However, had Lieberman won both the vice presidency and re-election to the Senate, his Senate successor would have been appointed by a Republican governor, John Rowland. Instead, Lieberman handily won re-election to the Senate. Interestingly, after the 2000 Senate election, the new Senate would be tied: 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Had the Gore-Lieberman team won the Presidential election, Lieberman would have had to resign his Senate seat and Rowland would have likely appointed a Republican, giving the Republicans one more seat, which would have granted them control of the Chamber.
More recently, in 2012, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) was selected by his party's presidential nominee Mitt Romney as his runningmate. Ryan ran for both re-election to the House and the vice presidency. Ryan did not actively campaign for re-election or debate his Congressional opponent, Democrat Ron Zerban. Zerban tried to get political mileage by appearing in Danville, Kentucky the day a vice presidential debate between Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden was scheduled to be held. Though Zerban could not shame Ryan into debating him, his Danville appearances resulted in Zerban accruing lots of free local and national media attention and effectuated a cash infusion to Zerban's coffers. In fact, Zerban raised $2.1 million. Zerban held Ryan to just 54.9 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage of any of Ryan's eight Congressional races.
There was one instance where a candidate's simultaneous presidential run likely cost him his seat. In 1995, U.S. Representative Bob Dornan (R-CA) launched a quixotic bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Dornan's district was rapidly becoming more Democratic because of the influx of Latino voters. Dornan lost the Congressional race by just 984 votes to Democrat Loretta Sanchez. Dornan alienated many of his Democratic constituents by his inflammatory polemics during the presidential campaign, calling Bill Clinton a "pathological liar" a "triple draft dodger" and a "criminal." In addition to losing the Congressional race, Dornan pocketed less than one percent of the vote in the presidential election.
Paul, like the aforementioned examples, does not want to launch an all-or-nothing presidential bid. Paul is likely calculating that voters in his conservative home state will not view it as supercilious to run for two offices concomitantly. Should he falter in the early presidential primaries, Paul can drop out of the presidential race and focus instead on his re-election bid. Should he win the vice presidential nomination and lose in the general election, Paul likely believes the Blue Grass State will return him to the Senate in the next election. Paul's move is certainly with precedent.