Sen. Rand Paul faces a deadline Friday to give $250,000 to the Republican Party of Kentucky to cover the cost of a presidential caucus.
If Paul provides the funds, the state Republican Party will move forward with a presidential caucus in March. If he doesn’t, Paul will be forced to choose between his presidential ambitions and his U.S. Senate seat.
The matter is complicated by the fact that Paul’s presidential run is struggling. He’s spent much of the past several months stuck in the middle of the packed Republican presidential field. Lately, polls show Paul’s support in the 4 percent range.
Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Paul may be better off focusing on winning a second Senate term.
“It looks very unlikely that Rand Paul would end up being the Republican nominee for president,” said Skelley.
Paul’s fundraising struggles and low polling numbers have been ongoing issues that haven’t improved.
“The initial fundraising reports, when they weren’t very good, seemed to suggest that maybe Paul really is in trouble in terms of being competitive in this presidential primary,” Skelley said.
The junior senator’s polling makes it possible that he might not be able to justify sticking around in the race much long. Skelley said Paul was “kind of fortunate” to be in this week’s debate, given where he is polling.
Paul’s situation has been noticed by his Republican presidential opponents. During CNN’s Republican presidential debate Wednesday, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump publicly criticized Paul’s current standing in the race.
“Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage,” Trump said in his opening the televised debate. “He’s No. 11.”
Paul’s campaign struggles have been in the national spotlight for months. In July, a widely circulated Politico story portrayed a candidate who was averse to some of the work of running for president, such as fund-raising.
It appears likely that he’ll try to do both. Paul has said he’s dedicated to his presidential run and to simultaneously seeking re-election to the Senate.
State law prohibits candidates from appearing twice on the ballot, though Paul has questioned that law’s validity. Still, the caucus appears to be his best bet for running simultaneous campaigns. And his campaign has said the money for the caucus would be sent by the Friday deadline.
Paul has been campaigning across the U.S. in an uphill battle for the Republican presidential nod, which has taken time from preparing for his re-election bid to the U.S. Senate next year. There have already been signs that Paul could be facing a challenge from Democratic State Auditor Adam Edelen.
“I think it is unlikely he will drop out. If he does indeed fork over the money for the caucus, I think he will probably stick it out,” Skelley said.
If the party doesn’t receive the money — which should only partially cover the cost of the caucus — Republicans will vote for a presidential nominee in the state’s regular primary in May. Paul has also promised to cover the full cost of the caucus.