Kentucky Republicans voted Saturday to approve a presidential caucus – a major victory for Sen. Rand Paul that will allow him to continue his quest for the Republican presidential nomination and run for re-election to the Senate next year.
The Kentucky Republican Party Central Committee approved the March 5 caucus by a 111-36 vote, with the caveat that Paul must put up half of the nearly $500,000 he promised to pay for it by Sept. 18.
Had only 14 committee members voted the other way, Paul's presidential campaign may have been in jeopardy. State law prohibits a candidate's name appearing more than once on a ballot.
In a statement from his campaign, Paul praised the committee for its support.
"The people of Kentucky deserve a voice as the GOP chooses their next nominee, and holding a caucus will ensure that Kentucky is relevant and participates early in the process," he said. "I am also grateful for the Republican Party's trust in me, allowing me to run for re-election to the U.S. Senate and seek the nomination for the Presidency of the United States."
The party's move drew immediate ire from Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic secretary of State, who said in a statement: "It is unfortunate that today a few insiders were able to disenfranchise over 1.2 million Republican voters."
"One candidate should not be able to buy an election," added Lundergan Grimes, who ran against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year.
Aside from helping Paul, some Kentucky Republicans hope a caucus in March will draw attention to the state's otherwise sleepy presidential primary, which would have come near the end of the cycle in May. The March caucus will come four days after the "SEC primary," when eight southern states vote and could excite GOP voters in a year when the party will defending the Senate seat held by Paul and aspiring to take back seats in the state legislature.
“To the party, we look at having an energized base from something like this," said Deanna Brangers, vice-chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party. “There is never a year like a presidential year to increase enthusiasm.”
The flip side, however, will be the logistical challenges of organizing the presidential caucus. In all 120 counties, local party chairs will have to help with booking at least one meeting room for the caucus meeting, finding dozens of volunteers it takes to run the event and making sure voters used to going to their local precinct know how to find their caucus location.
"It is very taxing," she said.
The caucus was supported by McConnell. As voting was about to commence, his state director, Terry Carmack, rose to remind committee members of McConnell's support.
Before the vote, Paul told reporters, "No matter what happens today, we'll be running for the presidency and well be running for re-election."