Back in the old days, if you were a senator or governor and you wanted to run for president, there were certain rituals you had to attend to. You had to schmooze with rich people and convince them to give you great gobs of their money. You had to visit diners in Iowa and New Hampshire, and listen with great interest when they talked about how expensive everything suddenly was at the local Pick n’ Save, or how the high school needed to fire its football coach. You had to disavow a select number of previously held positions.
Now there’s one more item to add to the roster: Quell any mischievous local lawmakers back home who are trying muck about in your ambitions.
That is the well-publicized case in Kentucky, where Sen. Rand Paul’s plans to run for president are hardly secret, and lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled state House are refusing to budge on a bill Republicans are pushing that would allow Paul both to run for president and to seek re-election to the Senate.
In order to counter Democrats gleeful at seeing Paul pushed out of office in order to pursue his presidential ambitions, the Republican Party of Kentucky has considered switching from a primary to a caucus, which would circumvent the state ban against appearing on two ballots in the same election. Any change would not come soon enough to save Paul should he win the Republican primary and head into the general election, so his camp has hinted that it is considering suing to overturn the ban, arguing that state law cannot apply to a federal matter like a presidential ballot.
And so now Alison Lundergan Grimes, the young and ambitious Democratic Kentucky secretary of state, has weighed in, telling a Louisville television station: “The law is clear. You can’t be on the ballot twice for two offices.”
If Paul is not able to run to defend his Senate seat, Grimes, who lost a closely watched race in November against Kentucky’s other senator, Mitch McConnell, would likely be a candidate. “We’ll look to the court for any guidance that is needed,” she added in her comments to WHAS-TV. “And at the end of the day, we’re not going to be bullied.”
Democrats in the legislature have said altering the law would be unconstitutional, as it would be done only to serve Paul’s purposes.
In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence has been facing something of the opposite problem. The former congressman is a favorite both of big-pocketed donors like Charles and David Koch and of the evangelical base. But he is up for re-election in 2016 after being elected governor of Indiana in 2012, and the Hoosier State’s law is similar to that of its neighbor to the south.
And so one Pence partisan in the Indiana Senate drafted a bill that would permit Pence to run for re-election and for president. On Tuesday, leaders of the both legislative chambers—which, unlike in Kentucky, are both controlled by Republicans—rejected the measure.
"It does not seem to me to be good public policy to give elected officials the opportunity to run for a federal and a state office at the same time, whether it's a legislator running for Congress or a secretary of state running for president,” House Speaker Brian Bosma told reporters.
Pence said the bill had not been a focus of his administration but declined to address directly whether he had asked for the legislation. Democrats, meanwhile, pounced.
“He appears willing to let others do his dirty work for him and refuses to get his hands dirty when it comes to his presidential ambitions or running state government," said Democratic Party chairman John Zody in a statement.
Sen. Marco Rubio faces the same problems as Pence and Paul, but it appears as if no Florida lawmakers will rise to fiddle with state law for Rubio, though he once led the lower state House. Rubio has said as well that he is not interested in pursuing changes to the law and that he will decide sometime this spring whether to run for president or to seek re-election.
The rest of the potential 2016 field will largely avoid this sort of problem. They are either former office holders, like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush; soon to be termed out, like Chris Christie; or fortunate enough to be considering a presidential campaign in a year when they are not also up for re-election.
Navigating how to—or not to—run for two offices is not new for would-be presidential candidates. In 2000, Joe Lieberman sought re-election to the Senate even as he was Al Gore’s running mate; Joe Biden did the same in 2008. In 2004, John Edwards decided not to seek-re-election to his North Carolina Senate seat in order to devote his attention to running for president, although the move was widely seen as acknowledgement that running for re-election would have been an uphill battle in conservative North Carolina in a presidential year.
Nor are legislatures’ attempts to muck about in their state constitution to influence the national political scene entirely new. In 2009, as Sen. Ted Kennedy was battling brain cancer, he pushed the Massachusetts legislature to pass a bill that would allow the governor to name a replacement immediately should a Senate vacancy occur, until a special election could be held. That law was a response to a 2004 bill the legislature passed preventing the governor from doing just that. The bill passed when Massachusetts Democrats thought John Kerry was going to be the next president, and they did not want then Gov. Mitt Romney to name his replacement.
What does seem different this time around, political analysts say, is the specificity of the efforts. They are often spearheaded by one ambitious legislator, and they are done to benefit a particular presidential aspirant.
But they are no longer limited to presidential candidates. In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is considering running for governor. And so one lawmaker there is trying to pass a change in state law that would prevent a governor from making an appointment to fill a vacant Senate seat.
The lawmaker behind the measure, Roscoe Streyle, did not return calls seeking comment.