- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

LONDON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Republicans will gather in the state’s capital on Saturday for essentially a vote of confidence in Rand Paul’s presidential campaign.

Paul is running for president and re-election to his Senate seat at the same time. But state law bans candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election. To get around that law, Paul has asked Republicans to create a presidential caucus in Kentucky on March 5.

The state party’s executive committee unanimously approved the caucus in the spring. But since then, Paul’s campaign has faltered in the polls as Donald Trump has captivated Republican voters across the country. Many Kentucky Republicans have questioned spending up to $500,000 for a caucus when Paul might be out of the presidential race by March.

That’s why Republicans have crafted the caucus to appeal to as many of the 17 declared Republican candidates as possible. The plan calls for Kentucky’s delegates to be split proportionally rather than “winner take all,” and candidates only need to get 5 percent of the vote to qualify for delegates. That’s a threshold much lower than other primary states.

The caucus would operate much like a primary election, with voters attending polling places to cast their ballots. The difference is there would be a lot fewer polling places, in some cases only one per county, and voters would have a six hour window to cast their ballots. Also, representatives from various presidential campaigns would be allowed to talk to caucus goers and try to win their votes.

While Paul has been campaigning heavily in early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he has waged a secondary campaign in his home state to approve the caucus. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell endorsed the caucus publicly, but only because Paul agreed to pay for the cost. Paul has pledged to cover the cost of the caucus, but is waiting to transfer the money to the state party until after they vote to approve the caucus.

Friday, Paul even suggested Republicans could take donations at caucus locations in March to help defray the cost.

“If you have 100,000 people voting and they put a dollar or two in a bag you can actually have enough money to pay for something like this,” Paul said.

Paul has argued the caucus would make sure Kentucky candidates are on a “level playing field” with the rest of the country, citing U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan running for vice president and re-election to his House seat at the same time in 2012. But lately he has sought to stir the partisan passions of Republicans by blaming Democrats for his predicament, telling the crowd at the London-Corbin Airport on Friday that it is “a problem that the Democrats have put in as an obstacle in front of me.”

Kentucky’s law banning candidates from appearing on the ballot twice was approved in 1990, two decades before Paul ran for office or even considered running for president. But some state Democrats, including Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, have sent out fundraising emails based on Paul’s request. Grimes, the state’s chief election officer, has vowed she would “uphold the laws of the Commonwealth.”

Paul told the crowd in London on Friday that a majority of the central committee supports the caucus, but said he did not know if he had the required two-thirds majority for the caucus to pass. But afterward he told reporters the vote could be unanimous.

“People have some questions but overwhelmingly they were supportive,” he said.

Appearing to leave nothing to chance, Paul approached Republican activist Billie Chaney after speaking to a group of school children and local chamber of commerce officials in London. He went through a list of the central committee members from her area and asked her to call them and ask for their support.

“I know all of them. One of them is kin to me,” Chaney, 83, said. “How else can we win if we don’t bypass some of this political whatever.”

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