U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky dropped out of the 2016 presidential race Wednesday after a fifth-place finish in the Iowa Republican caucus two days earlier.
Paul said he will focus his attention on his re-election in Kentucky, where he faces a Democratic challenger in Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Voters elected Paul to the Senate in 2010.
“Although today I will suspend my campaign for president, the fight is far from over,” Paul said in a statement. “I will continue to carry the torch for liberty in the United States Senate, and I look forward to earning the privilege to represent the people of Kentucky for another term.”
As of Dec. 31, Paul had raised $11.4 million and had spent $10.1 million on his presidential campaign. But he couldn’t break into the top rank of GOP candidates, dominated by billionaire Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Dr. Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
“It’s been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House,” Paul said. “Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of liberty.”
After bursting onto the national scene with a 13-hour filibuster of CIA director John Brennan’s nomination in March 2013, Paul was long thought to be the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination, winning the title of “the most interesting man in politics” by Time magazine.
But once Paul formally launched his campaign in April 2015, he was overshadowed by the high-profile antics of Trump and watched his Liberty movement support move toward Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses.
By ending his campaign, Paul is now free to focus on his 2016 U.S. Senate re-election, easing the minds of many Kentucky and national Republicans who long worried that Paul was flirting with disaster by pursuing two offices at once.
Democrats have been intensely critical of Paul’s divided attention, accusing him of neglecting Kentuckians as he pursued his presidential ambitions. Paul’s consistent reply was to point to a near-perfect attendance record in the U.S. Senate.
Still, Gray used Paul’s presidential campaign as one reason for getting in the race.
In recent months, Paul persuaded a reluctant Republican Party of Kentucky to hold a presidential caucus this year, rather than the traditional primary, so he could skirt a state law prohibiting federal candidates from appearing twice on the same ballot. Paul gave $250,000 to the state party last year to help pay for the March 5 caucus.
The timing of Paul’s announcement means that he will not be an active candidate when Kentucky Republicans caucus, but there is no mechanism for Paul to remove his name from the ballot in Kentucky.
The announcement also comes just days before the New Hampshire primary, the second nominating contest. Last spring, Paul deemed New Hampshire a must-win state for his campaign, suggesting the state’s fierce libertarian streak would match up well with his candidacy.
John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics