By John David Dyche
All eyes are focused on this year's Kentucky U.S. Senate race, but the next one is actually already underway. The seat now occupied by Republican Rand Paul will be on the ballot then.
That 2016 contest would not be nearly so intriguing if Paul was simply running for reelection. He is popular, politically powerful, and would be a prohibitive frontrunner.
But Paul has presidential ambitions. He has not formally announced, and won't until after this year's elections, but he is busy waging an unofficial White House campaign, and a good one at that.
Paul wants to run for both positions at the same time, but a Kentucky statute purports to prevent anyone from appearing "on any voting machine or absentee ballot more than once." An attempt to exclude federal elections from that law failed in the recently completed General Assembly session.
The legislature could still could act, especially if Republicans capture the state House of Representatives this fall. Some Republicans are resistant, however. The change could conceivably also help Democrats, such as by letting state Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo run for reelection in 2016 while also challenging Republican congressman Hal Rogers.
There is also a reasonable chance that a court could declare the law unconstitutional for imposing impermissible extra qualifications on candidates for federal office. A court could also hold the law inapplicable to Paul since his name on a presidential ballot actually represents the names of candidates for the oft-overlooked position of presidential elector.
The statute is poorly drafted, too. It refers only to the candidate's name appearing on "voting machine(s) or absentee ballot(s)," but makes no mention of non-absentee paper ballots such as those fed into a voting machine (although the definition of "voting machine" does include "supplies utilized or relied upon by a voter in casting and recording his votes in an election").
And, taken literally, the statute's application is not limited to a single election. Its plain terms compel the absurd result that a candidate's name cannot ever appear more than once on any voting machine or absentee ballot. Thus, candidates could run only for one office one time, period.
If the statute is amended, repealed, or struck down, and Paul pursues and wins election to both offices, it could potentially put the Republican Party in quite a predicament. Paul's inauguration as president would preclude his service as a senator.
The governor, who could be a Democrat, would appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the 2018 general election. It is not inconceivable that such an appointment could swing the balance of the Senate that a President Paul would have to work with from Republican to Democrat.
It is possible, but not likely, that some second-tier Republican will challenge Paul for the party's 2016 Senate nomination, perhaps because of the problems dual Paul candidacies could create. Or perhaps Paul simply decides to put all his 2016 election eggs into the presidential basket.
Regardless, who are the top GOP senatorial prospects? The party boasts three dynamic young U. S. Representatives, Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green, Thomas Massie of Vanceburg, and Andy Barr of Lexington, all of whom appear secure for reelection this year.
There are also two promising Republican contenders in next year's governor's race, Hal Heiner of Louisville and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer of Tompkinsville. A Senate race could also please the highly refined political palate of Cathy Bailey, the formidable fundraiser and former American ambassador to Latvia.
There is also Matt Bevin, who is challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell for the GOP Senate nomination this year. Even Bevin's biggest supporters, like Erick Erickson of the RedState website, realize that he is losing to McConnell, and he may emerge from the ill-considered primary too damaged and discredited to run again two years hence.
Among Democrats there is Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running this year, but is also likely to lose to McConnell, at least according to respected analysts like Larry Sabato and Stuart Rothenberg. If Grimes comes close, however, she could run again in 2016.
Louisville mayor Greg Fischer is a possibility, assuming he handles his city's gang and mob problem between now and then.
Both Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Adam Edelen are interested in next year's race for governor, but are 2016 Senate prospects regardless. Conway, who lost badly to Paul in 2010, may be more likely. His history shows a burning desire to be something, whereas Edelen's record reflects a passion to do something, and preferably in an executive capacity at the state level.
Either of two beautiful, smart, and well-connected Democratic women might also make their maiden political race for U. S. Senator in 2016. Actress Ashley Judd and former Miss America Heather French Henry each seriously contemplated this year's Senate race. Both carry political baggage, but either would make a formidable candidate.
Some wealthy business types may emerge on either side, and there is no telling who might emerge from the tea party's ranks. In the meantime, Kentucky's 2016 Senate race remains all about Rand Paul.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.