Rand Paul runs for president, has to settle for a caucus

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Rand Paul ran for president, and all he got was a caucus.

The Kentucky Republican ended his presidential campaign Wednesday after a fifth place finish in the Iowa caucuses. But the lasting impact of his once promising presidential bid could be the caucus he requested in his home state.

Kentucky Republicans changed their election calendar to hold a presidential caucus on March 5, all so Paul could run for president and re-election to his U.S. Senate seat without violating a state law banning candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election. Paul even paid for the caucus, donating $250,000 along with a promise to cover other expenses. Now he'll be footing the bill for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and other candidates to contend for Kentucky's 46 Republican delegates.

But now that Paul is out of the race, he is not backing away from the caucus he created. He plans to promote the caucus at Republican gatherings in Louisville and Bowling Green days before the vote. And he said volunteers from his re-election campaign "will be participating and manning the caucuses."

"We're very excited about the presidential caucus. Ever since I've been voting and an adult in Kentucky, we really haven't been relevant," Paul said. "This will be the first chance Kentucky Republicans will be able to have a say in it."

With Paul no longer having a home state advantage, the presidential field is cleared for the other candidates to compete in Kentucky. State party leaders set up the caucus to draw them in, with a 5 percent threshold for winning delegates and a format in which the winner does not take all. The ballots have already been printed, so Kentuckians can still vote for Paul March 5. Mike Huckabee's name will also appear on the ballot, even though he dropped out of the race Monday.

The campaign for caucus delegates will take place against a backdrop roiling with the politics of President Barack Obama's health care law. Matt Bevin, the state's new governor, ran on a pledge to dramatically alter Kentucky's version of Medicaid expansion, and GOP contenders criticizing the program will try to tap the same anti-Obama vein that helped Bevin win the office last year.

Kentucky's caucus is different than Iowa's better-known event and more like the primary it replaced. The only differences between Kentucky's caucus and the primary are that caucus locations are open for a shorter period of time and most counties only have one caucus location instead of multiple precincts. Registered Republicans can cast ballots at their caucus location between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on caucus day, and they can cast absentee ballots if they can't make it that Saturday.

"We're trying to make it as much like a primary as possible," said Sam Pierce, vice chairman of the Harrison County Republican Party.

In four years, party leaders will have to decide whether they want another caucus, but for now, it's got their support.

Republican Party of Kentucky Executive Director Mike Biagi said the party is promoting the caucus through social media. But they don't plan to purchase advertising, hoping the candidates will do that for them. That has not happened yet, with just 52 ads airing in Lexington and Bowling Green through January, according to an analysis of data by the Center for Public Integrity.

"I do expect we'll have visits by presidential candidates. Hopefully they will come here," Biagi said.