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The biggest 2016 bind of all? State laws

With some state laws prohibiting lawmakers from running for two offices at the same time, some potential 2016 candidates are in a tough position.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the media on Dec. 18, 2014 in Miami, Fla.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the media on Dec. 18, 2014 in Miami, Fla.

Several potential Republican presidential candidates are up for re-election in their current roles in 2016, and thus could soon find themselves in a bind, as state laws prohibit them from running for two offices at the same time.

They’re handling the problem in different ways. While Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has agreed to comply – and has said if he makes a bid for the Oval Office he won’t seek Senate re-election -- others, like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have indicated they are willing to fight.

“It could be a big deal,” said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University. “Obviously if the rules prohibit them from doing both, they need to make a gut level decision about whether they are willing to sacrifice the current base of power for the potential of higher office. Some might choose to keep their position in the Senate, especially with the prospect of Hillary Clinton running. If the rules changed, then they can solve the immediate problem.”

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Even then, of course, there is potential blowback of running for two offices simultaneously. It can make you look selfish and like you’re simply trying to hedge your bets. There’s also the challenge of trying to win over two different voting pools at the same time.

Rubio has said he is willing to take a big gamble, that he won’t run for re-election if he runs for president. “I think, by in large, when you choose to do something as big as that, you’ve really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last year.

Meanwhile, Paul has already announced he is running for a second term in the Senate and has argued he should be able to run for president too. He told Salon that it’s a “fairness issue,” and that there have been candidates who have been on the ballot more than once. “We shouldn’t allow some states to do it and other states not to.” Several options – including taking the issue to court or changing the presidential primary to a convention system to avoid having Paul’s name on a ballot twice – have been floated. Last year, a bill was put forth to change the rules to allow him to run for two offices but did not move in the Democratic-held House. 

Other state legislatures where there are candidates that are considered more of a long-shot are making similar moves.

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In South Dakota, Republicans are trying to repeal the so-called Daschle rule that prohibits candidates from running for president or vice president and another office at the same time. The action seems to be aimed at Republican Sen. John Thune, whose name has been floated as a potential GOP running mate.

And in Indiana, a bill has been introduced that would allow Gov. Mike Pence run to for two offices as well. Pence insisted to the Indianapolis Star that while the proposal is “well intentioned," “it’s not our focus.”

Of course, candidates up for re-election have simultaneously run for higher office in the past in states where rules allowed it – with varying degrees of success in winning the higher office. In 2000, then-Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut kept his name on the state ballot while unsuccessfully running for vice president with Democratic nominee Al Gore. Same goes for Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin when he ran for vice president with Mitt Romney in 2012. Joe Biden ran for re-election as a senator in Delaware and as Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008. After Biden won, he was replaced by his longtime aide, Edward Kaufman.

Of course, there could also be additional potential blowback in running for both offices at the same time, said Zelizer. “It also can do immediate things like force you to miss votes and debates, which can then become part of the campaign trail attacks,” he said. “At the same time, as senator you might be forced to take a tough vote on an issue, putting your position as a clear yes or no, which often makes things difficult on the presidential campaign trail where people like to avoid black or white for the comfort of gray.”