Last week the presidential hopes of Senator Rand Paul took a serious blow. The Kentucky House of Representatives allowed a bill to die without a vote that would have permitted candidates to run for more than one elected office at at time. The bill could be revisited in the next legislative session, which begins in January 2015, but the House does not appear eager to pass the bill at all. And even if it did, Senator Paul would already be months behind other Republican contenders for the presidency in starting on the campaign trail.
The ability to run for multiple offices seems like hardly a serious issue. After all, nowhere in the bill does it suggest that, if elected to both offices, an individual would actually serve in both. All it means is that there might need to be a special election, or perhaps an appointment by the governor.
The decision to block Senator Paul’s dual run is pure tribal politics. The Democrat-controlled House is happy to cause problems for a senator who is popular amongst his constituents and is one of the chief contender for his party’s presidential nomination. Forcing a choice allows them score a victory whatever the choice may be. If he chooses to eschew the presidency and run for the Senate, the House will have scuppered a potentially powerful presidential contender. If he chooses to run for the White House, the Democrats can run a candidate for the Senate unburdened by the challenge of incumbency.
There is certainly no lack of precedent for permitting candidates to run for multiple offices, from both sides of the political aisle. In 2000, Joseph Lieberman won his Senate seat in Connecticut while losing his run for vice president alongside Al Gore. Similarly, in 2012, Paul Ryan won his House seat while being defeated beside Mitt Romney.
Forcing the choice makes for bad outcomes. It thieves the public of valuable potential choices and can seriously cost political movements. Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, but could not run for his Senate seat. When he lost the race, he was out of the Senate and the country was deprived of one of its most competent legislators.
The choice to run for president is a monumental one. It demands a huge amount of sacrifice in terms of time, resources, and privacy. Making that choice even harder means the public suffers for greater lack good of candidates to choose between.