Now that Kentucky Republicans are officially holding a presidential caucus in March, the party’s leader says the state can expect an influx of visits from presidential candidates.
First up: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s visit to Louisville on Thursday.
Bush is attending a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Kentucky, party officials announced last week.
Kentucky Republican Party chairman Steve Robertson said he’s excited for the fundraising help from Bush, as this year’s contentious gubernatorial race between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin gets closer. But he said this fundraiser is also a signal the state will become a stomping ground for more presidential candidates.
“I believe it’s a big signal,” Robertson said. “The fact that Gov. Bush is coming to Kentucky so quickly is obviously a great sign.”
The March caucus may make Kentucky a more attractive stumping spot for Republicans than ever before. In previous years, Kentucky’s May primary has been held too late to play a significant role in the selection of presidential nominees.
But the Republicans have more than a dozen candidates this year, and none has firmly broken away from the pack. The state’s March caucus could play a role in selecting the Republican presidential nominee — especially if Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential bid remains low in the polls.
The Kentucky Republican Party is holding a caucus at Paul’s request. Under current state law, candidates are prohibited from appearing twice on a ballot. Paul, who has called that law “unconstitutional,” is up for re-election to the Senate in addition to his presidential bid.
The caucus allows Paul to get home-state support for his presidential bid in March and to also appear on the ballot during the primary in May, when he seeks re-election to his Senate seat.
In recent polls, Paul’s presidential bid has garnered about 4 percent of the support among Republicans.
Last month, the Republican Party of Kentucky’s leadership committee approved a plan to hold a March caucus — on the condition that Paul give $250,000 by last Friday. He did, so the party appears destined for a caucus.
Paul’s campaign has said it will cover the entire cost of the election.
Robertson said the caucus will be held early enough during election season that Republican candidates will have an incentive to vie for votes in the Bluegrass State.
“It just makes the calculus on Kentucky different for presidential campaigns because there is an environment where they know that they can come to our state, compete for delegates, start identifying their support structure throughout Kentucky,” he said.
Although this will be a brand-new process for most voters in Kentucky, Robertson said he is excited the state is going to have influence in a presidential election for the first time in a long time.
“Typically, our role in the nominating process — whether it’s for a Democratic candidate or a Republican candidate — for the U.S. presidency is just a ‘get in line’ in May behind a decision that every other state in the nation has chimed in on,” Robertson said.
The idea that a caucus would raise the state’s profile in the presidential primary process was one of selling points for party leaders. Last month, Christian County Republican Chair Jason Hasert said the caucus would make Kentucky more relevant.
“I think it gets Kentucky some skin in the game where our presidential votes matter,” Hasert said.
While the caucus could increase interest from candidates, it could have the opposite effect on voters. Voting experts warn caucusestend to have a lower voter turnout compared with regular primary elections.
But RPK officials have said they are working out a system aimed at increasing voter turnout. The plans include incorporating a way to ensure that people who are out of state can vote.
Bush isn’t the first presidential candidate to visit Kentucky this year. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, and Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, visited this month to show support for Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has made national headlines for her defiant stance against same-sex marriage.