For Rubio and Rand, running for president and re-election would pose challenges

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Legend has it that Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés scuttled his ships upon arriving to the mainland, signaling to his men that they could either sink or swim — but they could not retreat.

Political expeditions are rarely as bold. It seems like a very real possibility that at least one Republican presidential candidate will (for a time, at least) attempt to test the waters, effectively running for re-election and the nomination at the same time. No ships will be harmed.

Running for two offices, however, risks sending a different message — signaling to donors, supporters, and staffers that you are hedging your bets, and (maybe) they should, too.

Along those lines, a bill that would allow Sen. Rand Paul to run for re-election and the presidency on the same Kentucky ballot has cleared a state Senate committee, even as it is considered dead on arrival in the state House.

Regardless of whether or not it passes, this illustrates the challenges facing possible presidential candidates like Rand Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio (and, for that matter, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence) — who are up for re-election in 2016. (And I’m not just talking about the legal/compliance issues associated with getting on the ballot, either.)

The aforementioned signaling problem may or may not be determinative, but there is presumably some psychological cost associated with preserving one’s lifeboat.

But that’s not the only downside. Let’s suppose Rand Paul and Marco Rubio both run for president — and let’s suppose Rubio wins the nomination, while Paul drops out in time to qualify for re-election on the ballot.

It is entirely possible that this scenario would potentially cost Republicans two U.S. Senate seats (in what will already be a tough year for Republicans defending Senate seats).

At the very least, this could make both candidates look selfish. To avoid undermining the incumbent (or losing to him), Florida and Kentucky Republicans would presumably avoid fielding a candidate until the dénouement. This would put them at a severe disadvantage if a Democrat with statewide name recognition (think Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Alex Sink in Florida) seized the opportunity, and began aggressively running (and fundraising).

(As an incumbent, Paul might still win — though he would be off to a slow start — and might be banged up from a bruising presidential primary. Meanwhile, the Florida governor — presumably Rick Scott or Charlie Crist — would appoint someone to occupy the vacated seat until the November election. If Crist wins the governorship, this would make only complicate matters for Rubio.)

This is not to say that this can’t all be worked out, but it is to say that the electoral calendar creates some additional hurdles for Paul and Rubio, serving to make a presidential bid even more complex (and risky) than normal. There are a lot of variables here, and it would be ironic if Republicans were to win the White House, only to lose the Senate because of this.