While Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been campaigning for the Republican nomination for president, his supporters back home have been quietly wrangling the state party to get him an expensive insurance package that could possibly let him fall back on his seat if his upward ambitions are not successful.
The problem? Insurance policies are pricy, and to some on the Kentucky Republican Central Committee, the premium for Paul’s — in the form of a caucus system that would allow him to go around the rules against being on the same primary ballot for two different offices — seems pretty high.
“There’s a lot of Republicans who look at the Rand Paul presidential campaign and say, ‘This is a bad bet.’ Why would we change the rules for a campaign that is doomed? They wouldn't have said that a month ago, but Paul's had a bad month," said Al Cross, who covered politics for two decades for The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
Nonetheless, wrangling from Team Paul has loudened this week, because the central committee will meet in Frankfort on Saturday to consider Paul's $500,000 new plan to pay for the caucus. The plan, according to a Paul aide, leverages a combination of his own fundraising with charging $15,000 fees for Republican presidential hopefuls to participate in the caucus.
State Rep. David W. Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said he believes the Republican central committee will ultimately endorse Paul's proposal.
"I think that his commitment to cover the expenses has satisfied many concerns that have been expressed," he said.
But as Republicans compete to win statewide elections this November and legislative elections next year, others have raised concerns about the money and whether holding a caucus for Paul is worth it.
Paul held a conference call with central committee members on Thursday evening to discuss his funding plan and try to placate doubters. Committee members said Paul took some questions but one said he offered "no additional clarity."
Paul was on the line for about half of the hourlong call, but said he didn't feel well and passed the rest of the questions on to state party chairman Steve Robertson.
Paul's input "was informational," one committee member said, but "uninteresting" and not much different from what he said in his letter to committee members last week.
Scott Lasley, the Warren County Republican Party chairman who has been heading up the effort to organize the caucuses in all of Kentucky's 120 counties, said before Thursday's call that he wants to be assured by Paul that the $500,000 will come in a timely fashion and that his campaign will not try to meddle in an effort to scale back costs.
“One of the things I’m concerned about moving forward is that when the money is transferred, there should be no continued entanglement,” he said. “The party should be responsible for administering the caucus.”
Jim Milliman, Paul's state director, told CQ Roll Call, "Senator Paul pledged to make sure the party wouldn't pay a cent for this caucus, and he stands by that pledge. He will show the committee a full finance plan, including putting up significant funding up front, this week.”
Earlier this year, the caucuses received support from the Kentucky GOP’s executive committee as well as the state’s highest-ranking Republican official, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who was initially skeptical.
Speaking with reporters at an event in Kentucky earlier this week, McConnell, a supporter of Paul’s presidential campaign, said, “I’m pleased to continue to support the caucus” as long as the state's junior senator makes "sure that the cost of the caucus was defrayed."
Cross, who now leads the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said McConnell's aim has been to maintain unity within the party in the Bluegrass State.
"This is a real test of that symbiosis," Cross said.
Paul was high in the polls earlier in the year, earning support from 15 percent of the voters surveyed in Iowa in January and New Hampshire in April. But he's dropped sharply since then, polling now around 3 percent in Iowa and 6 percent in New Hampshire , according to the Real Clear Politics average.
At least in Lasley’s view, Paul’s chances at the nomination should not matter as much as the impact a caucus might have on the party, good and bad. It could urge presidential candidates to spend time in Kentucky when they might not otherwise do so, which could energize Republicans there, he said.
“On one side, it’d be great to have a presidential candidate from Kentucky,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, what's most important is what promotes long-term growth for the party.”
Matthew Fleming contributed to this report.