- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Less than a week after Rand Paul ended his presidential campaign, some of the Kentucky senator’s top supporters in the state legislature have backed Marco Rubio ahead of the state’s Republican presidential caucus next month.

State party leaders scheduled, and Paul paid for, a presidential caucus on March 5 to avoid a state law banning candidates from running for two offices at the same time. But Paul ended his presidential campaign last week after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, turning his attention to his Senate re-election campaign.

That provided an opening in Kentucky for its 46 Republican delegates in a close, crowded presidential race that could drag on well into the summer.

On Monday, Rubio’s campaign struck first by announcing that 24 state lawmakers had endorsed him. They include Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, who, like Paul, is a medical doctor and introduced Paul at his presidential kickoff rally last year; and state Rep. Jeff Hoover, the House minority leader who is in line to become the next Speaker of the House should Republicans pick up five seats in November’s general election.

“Many of us had told the Rubio campaign that we supported Sen. Paul, but if he withdrew at any time we would support Sen. Rubio,” Hoover said. “The Rubio campaign immediately started calling and shoring up those commitments.”

Rubio’s campaign was in a good position to capitalize on Paul’s announcement: Former U.S. Rep. Anne Northrup of Louisville, who has relationships with many of the state’s Republican leaders, had already signed on as the campaign’s state chairwoman. And Rubio’s personality appealed to some Republicans here, who see him as more electable than fellow frontrunners Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

“I don’t think he’s polarizing,” said state Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, where Paul lives. “Who do I think has the best shot of becoming a president that I can get behind? And you know his name always came up.”

Other key Rubio endorsements include Republican state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, who leads an organization that recruits Republican women to run for office in Kentucky, and Louisville state Rep. Jerry Miller, one of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s closest legislative allies.

Eleven candidates will appear on the Kentucky caucus ballots next month, including Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The three candidates have already ended their campaigns, but not before Kentucky’s ballots were printed.

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