- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Rand Paul ran for president, and all he got was a caucus.

The Kentucky Republican ended his presidential campaign Wednesday after a fifth place finish in the Iowa caucuses. But the lasting impact of his once promising presidential bid could be the caucus he requested in his home state.

Kentucky Republicans changed their election calendar to hold a presidential caucus on March 5, all so Paul could run for president and re-election to his U.S. Senate seat without violating a state law banning candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election. Paul even paid for the caucus, donating $250,000 along with a promise to cover other expenses. Now he’ll be footing the bill for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and other candidates to contend for Kentucky’s 46 Republican delegates.

But now that Paul is out of the race, he is not backing away from the caucus he created. He plans to promote the caucus at Republican gatherings in Louisville and Bowling Green days before the vote. And he said volunteers from his re-election campaign “will be participating and manning the caucuses.”

“We’re very excited about the presidential caucus. Ever since I’ve been voting and an adult in Kentucky, we really haven’t been relevant,” Paul said. “This will be the first chance Kentucky Republicans will be able to have a say in it.”

The ballots have already been printed, so Kentuckians can still vote for him March 5. Mike Huckabee’s name will also appear on the ballot, even though he dropped out of the race Monday.

Kentucky’s caucus is different than Iowa’s better-known event. The only differences between Kentucky’s caucus and the primary is that caucus locations are open for a shorter period of time and most counties only have one caucus location instead of multiple precincts. Registered Republicans can cast ballots at their caucus location between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on caucus day, and they can even cast absentee ballots if they can’t make it that Saturday.

“We’re trying to make it as much like a primary as possible,” said Sam Pierce, vice chairman of the Harrison County Republican Party.

In four years, party leaders will have to decide whether they want another caucus, but for now, it’s got their support.

Republican Party of Kentucky Executive Director Mike Biagi said the party is promoting the caucus through social media. But they don’t plan to purchase advertising, hoping the candidates will do that for them. That has not happened yet, with just 52 ads airing in Lexington and Bowling Green through January, according to an analysis of data by the Center for Public Integrity.

“I do expect we’ll have visits by presidential candidates. Hopefully they will come here,” Biagi said.

Paul now turns to his re-election campaign, where Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is the most recognizable name on the Democratic side. Gray appears willing to make Paul’s presidential campaign an issue, saying Wednesday that Kentucky voters “deserve to be more than just a fallback plan.”

“Now that he’s failed to catch fire with voters in other states, he’s coming back,” Gray said in a news release.

But after months campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, Paul plans to return to Kentucky in two weeks for a 25-city tour in southeastern and central Kentucky, his first official sweep through the state since December. And even though Democratic President Barack Obama won’t be on the ballot in November, Paul plans to run against him, too.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for Democrats who support President Obama to win in our state because I think most of Kentucky knows that President Obama doesn’t care much about Kentucky or our jobs,” Paul said.

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