U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to participate in the Republican Party of Kentucky’s presidential preference caucus March 5, and he’s hoping he never has to do it again. “I’m not a fan of caucuses and I hope this is the last one we have,” McConnell told the Herald-Leader. With nominating contests set to begin in earnest when Iowans go to their caucuses Feb. 3, anxiety and optimism abound in Kentucky as party leaders move forward with the unusual contests. The move away from a traditional primary was proposed and passed by party officials as a way to help U.S. Sen. Rand Paul get around a state law that prohibits candidates from appearing on the same ballot twice, but the idea also was sold as a way to grow the party and increase the state’s relevance in selecting a presidential nominee. Now, with eight candidates committed to participate in the contests, Republicans are uncertain but hopeful that the caucuses will achieve those goals. ‘It’s not going to be New Hampshire’
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush became the first presidential candidate to pay the $15,000 fee and file for the caucuses when he flew into Louisville in late September. But the only Kentuckians who were able to see Bush were those who ponied up the dough to attend a fundraiser for the state party that Bush attended during his brief visit to the state.
Voters in early primary and caucus states, such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, enjoy the type of access to candidates that for years has left other states seething and envious.
Part of the calculation in moving to an earlier nominating contest was the hope that candidates would be compelled to visit Kentucky and ask the state’s Republicans for their votes. That has not happened, and the early states are continuing to enjoy the field’s undivided attention.