RFK Jr. Is Scaring Biden’s Allies. He Should Scare Trump’s, Too.

(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden’s allies are racing to blunt the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., casting his third-party effort as a stalking-horse bid designed to boost Donald Trump’s chances — even as his wide-ranging policy positions make him a threat to both.

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Kennedy injected new urgency into the Democratic effort this month by securing a spot on the ballot in Michigan, a swing state vitally important to Biden’s victory plans. Trump narrowly won the state in 2016 and Biden nabbed it back in 2020. If Kennedy draws more votes from one or the other, he could flip the state’s 16 Electoral College votes and maybe the election.

Both sides are racing to define Kennedy. For Democrats, he’s a fringe conspiracy theorist not even backed by his own siblings in the famed political dynasty, a vaccine skeptic who has waffled over prosecutions of Jan. 6, 2021 riot participants. Trump most recently called him an environmental extremist and open-border advocate unworthy of a protest vote against Biden, though he has also touted Kennedy’s Democratic roots to try to hurt the president.

Kennedy’s rise, from unsuccessful primary challenger to mystery-box third party contender, illustrates the volatile nature of the 2024 campaign, with polls showing voters wish they had a choice other than the Biden-Trump rematch.

Kennedy, 70, is viewed favorably by 29% of swing-state voters who opted for Biden in 2020, but viewed favorably by 50% of voters who selected Trump that year, according to the latest Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll, with similar numbers in Michigan.

“He is a challenge for both sides,” said Jim Messina, who managed Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection bid. “But on the Democratic side, I feel comfortable that, once we get education, we can drive his numbers through the floor.”

Trump’s top campaign adviser, Chris LaCivita, quickly shut down rumors that the former president was considering Kennedy as a running mate, writing on social media that Kennedy was “a leftie loonie that would never be approached to be on the ticket.”

Kennedy Donors

Kennedy’s biggest donors come from the world of Trump backers.

Timothy Mellon gave $20 million to American Values 2024, Kennedy’s allied super political action committee, and has also given $15 million to a group backing Trump. Leila Centner, an anti-vaccine activist, gave $1 million. Venture capitalist David Sacks and Jacqueline Sacks donated $93,400 to American Values 2024 through their own political action committee.

Kennedy’s running mate is also a big contributor. Nicole Shanahan, a prominent investor in Silicon Valley whose ex-husband is Sergey Brin, co-founder of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, has given $6.5 million, including $2 million she donated directly to Kennedy’s campaign in March. Candidates can spend their own money without limits to run for federal office.

She also gave $4 million to American Values 2024 to pay for a Super Bowl ad that mimicked a John F. Kennedy 1960 campaign ad that offended the family.


Kennedy is a chimera-like candidate who could pull from Trump or Biden supporters on any given day.

He’s pledging to make 3% mortgages available to first-time homebuyers and to further curtail American military interventions abroad. Yet despite his long-standing environmental activism, environmental groups this month called him a “dangerous conspiracy theorist and science denier.”

He’s pledging to “end the chronic disease epidemic,” by studying the role of “ultra-processed foods,” electromagnetic pollution and pharmaceuticals. On abortion rights, a key issue for Biden’s victory, Kennedy only says he wants to give “more choices than they have today,” including by advocating for widespread daycare subsidies, while also hoping to “see a lot fewer abortions.” He’s pledging to use technology to tighten control of the US border.

Kennedy has also promoted conspiracies about vaccines and questioned their efficacy. That could sap support from Trump, who as president at the height of the pandemic, criticized government-mandated vaccines. He’s a frequent guest on right-leaning podcasts.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what he does here. I think there’s likely an anti-establishment group of Republicans that would be interested in Kennedy in a way that there just isn’t in the Democratic Party,” Messina said. “What we need to do is just explain who he really is and use his own comments.”

Trump is trying to keep his supporters in his camp, labeling Kennedy as a “radical leftist,” and the Biden camp is leaving little to chance.

Biden allies have formed the Clear Choice political action committee to counter third-party candidacies. The Democratic National Committee has also mustered a team aimed at ensuring candidates are lawfully on the ballot — and taking direct aim at Kennedy.

The DNC erected two billboards in Arizona, where Kennedy held a fundraiser last week, emblazoned with Kennedy in a Make America Great Again hat and a slogan: “RFK. Jr.: Spoiler for Trump.”

“There will be a clear choice facing voters this November, and the more they learn about him, the more we’re confident that they’ll recognize that a vote for him is a vote for Donald Trump,” DNC spokesman Matt Corridoni said.

‘Traditional Liberal’

Kennedy himself has characterized himself as neither right nor left wing.

“I consider myself a traditional liberal, which was somebody who was for free speech, somebody who was for the Constitution, somebody who supported an idealistic vision of America,” he said in a recent podcast.

Trump’s main super-PAC also launched a website that highlights Kennedy’s environmentalist views and his opposition to voter ID, a favorite GOP issue. Trump himself posted a video this month saying Kennedy’s candidacy was great for his movement.

“I guess that means he’s going to be taking away votes from Crooked Joe Biden and he should because he’s actually better than Biden,” Trump said in the video. “If I were a Democrat I’d vote for RFK Jr. every single time over Biden because he’s frankly more in line with Democrats.”

Michigan Effort

The Kennedy campaign is confident it will get on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, an official familiar with the campaign’s plans said. The official downplayed questions about his candidacy’s impact in swing states, saying a three-way race gives otherwise uncompetitive states a choice.

How much of a threat Kennedy poses to either major-party candidate depends on how successful that effort is. In Michigan, he’s running on the Natural Law Party ticket. The party was formed in 1992 and advocates solving problems with transcendental meditation, said Doug Dern, the state chair. It also advocates national organic farming, a flat tax, limiting unwanted pregnancies and responsible gun use, he said.

Dern described the party as “a kind of freestyle independent party where we will accept anybody” and predicted Kennedy would carry Michigan.

“About 40% of the population are just sick of the two-party system. They don’t like the Democrats and the Republicans telling them how to think,” Dern said. “Kennedy’s going to fix it.”

Richard Czuba, an independent pollster in Michigan, said Kennedy could capitalize on Biden’s weakness among Independent voters.

“I don’t think independents are going to look at Kennedy as ‘he is anti-vax’ or ‘he is a conspiracy theorist.’ They’re going to look at him as: is he our opportunity to deliver a message? ‘We don’t like our choices.’ That’s where particularly Biden can be hurt,” Czuba said.

Kennedy is banking on that dissatisfaction.

“You can tell that neither of the establishment parties understand what’s happening here,” Kennedy said in a recent advertisement, appealing for donations to fund ballot-access efforts. “The Kennedy-Shanahan ticket is neither right nor left.”

--With assistance from Bill Allison and Stephanie Lai.

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