Kentucky Republicans are hoping for a big turnout for the party’s inaugural presidential caucus on Saturday, even though the event isn’t generating as much excitement locally with the absence of Sen. Rand Paul in the race for the White House.
Last year, Paul convinced his home state’s party to switch from a primary to a caucus format. At the time, Paul was simultaneously running for Senate and president — but state law barred him from appearing twice on the May primary ballot. Paul also argued that the earlier election date would make Kentucky more relevant in the presidential nomination process.
Scott Lasley, the Warren County Republican Party chairman who helped engineer the caucus, said the effort has been partially successful.
“We’re more important than we were, but it’d still be nice to be more important,” Lasley said.
The contest comes just four days after Super Tuesday, when 12 states hold primary elections, monopolizing the attention of the five candidates vying for the Republican nomination.
To date, candidates haven’t been campaigning visibly in Kentucky, besides advertising endorsements. That’ll change this week, as retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson visits Lexington on Monday and businessman Donald Trump makes a stop in Louisville on Tuesday.
But Lasley said it’s still in question how much more on-the-ground campaigning candidates will do in advance of the contest.
“They know about us, they’re working on it,” Lasley said. “Without a doubt there’s more attention than there is typically. It’s just a lot of it is kind of behind the scenes.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has touted the support of several Kentucky legislators and other state Republican leaders. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has the backing of former state House Minority Whip Jim Zimmerman and Congressman Larry Hopkins.
But unlike in many recent presidential election cycles, Kentucky Republicans will choose their nominee at a time when the race is far from settled. Trump is considered the frontrunner, but he’s widely opposed by the party establishment.
Kansas, Louisiana and Maine also have primary or caucus elections on March 5.
Although there are only five GOP candidates still running for president — Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Carson — all 11 candidates who signed up for the caucus will still appear on the ballot.
Kentucky is not a winner-take-all state; delegates will be awarded in proportion to the outcome. The Republican caucus also has a low delegate threshold, meaning that as long as candidates secure 5 percent of the vote, they’ll receive a portion of the state’s 46 delegates.
That could make Kentucky appealing to the contenders, Lasley said.
“Ben Carson might not be able to get 15 percent, but if he gets 8 percent he will win three, four delegates out of Kentucky,” he said.
Only Republicans who registered before the end of 2015 will be able to participate in the caucus. All but nine counties will have caucus locations. Voters in the non-caucus counties will be able to go to an adjacent county. (For more information, go to the Republican Party of Kentucky’s caucus website.)
Democrats will still vote in the presidential primary in May.
All other Kentucky Republican and Democratic nominees — U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state House, state Senate — will also be held in May.