Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announces independent run for president, ending Democratic primary challenge to Biden

Matt Rourke/AP

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks during a campaign event on Independence Mall in Philadelphia on October 9, 2023.


Environmental lawyer and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his independent candidacy for president on Monday, making his effort to defeat President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary in favor of a long-shot general election bid official. formally ended.

“I have come here to declare myself an independent candidate for the presidency of the United States,” Kennedy said in remarks in Philadelphia.

Kennedy’s announcement comes after several weeks of speculation about his future in the 2024 field. CNN previously reported that Kennedy met with the Libertarian Party chairman earlier this year to discuss their common beliefs. And last week, a super PAC supporting Kennedy’s presidential campaign released the results of a poll they conducted that tested Kennedy’s strength in a hypothetical three-way race between Biden and former President Donald Trump.

The campaign will host a series of events in Texas, Florida and Georgia later this month, a campaign official told CNN, promising to travel “everywhere” before next year’s general election. The official said the campaign is confident they will gain ballot access in every state before November 2024.

Independent and third-party candidates have struggled in the past to garner sufficient support in presidential elections. In 1992, Texas businessman Ross Perot ran one of the most successful independent presidential candidacies in recent history, which ended with him receiving 8% of the vote in the general election, which was ultimately won by Bill Clinton. .

Kennedy’s campaign as an independent could further complicate a general election race that is already expected to be a close race. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week of a hypothetical three-way race between Biden, Trump and Kennedy among likely voters found that 14% of voters supported Kennedy, 40% supported Trump and 38% supported Biden. Supported. With more than a year left until the general election, it is unclear whether the Kennedy campaign will be able to translate that level of support into votes in November 2024.

“Voters should not be deceived by anyone pretending to hold conservative values. The fact is that RFK had a troubling background combined with radical, libertarian stances. “…RFK’s candidacy is nothing more than a vanity project for a liberal Kennedy looking to cash in on his family name.”

One adviser, pointing to his past record as an environmental activist, told CNN that Trump aides and advisers are producing opposition research against Kennedy that is designed to be offensive and portray Kennedy as a “liberal parading in conservative clothes.” Intend to be portrayed as.

Kennedy first launched his campaign to defeat Biden in the Democratic primary in April and frequently visited early primary states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina. But his efforts had little impact on Democratic primary voters, with only 9% of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire expressing support for Kennedy in a CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released in September.

The Republican National Committee issued a statement just before Kennedy’s announcement, describing him as “just another radical, far-left Democrat.”

Kennedy is the son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. Some of his siblings issued a joint statement on Monday, calling his decision to run against Biden in the general election “dangerous for our country.”

“Bobby may have the same name as our father, but his values, attitudes or decisions are not the same. Today’s announcement is extremely sad for us. We condemn his candidacy and believe it is dangerous to our country,” Rory Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said in a statement.

Kennedy has never held public office, but he has inspired a small contingent of supporters for his advocacy against public health mandates and the influence of money on decisions made by government and private corporations. Kennedy founded Children’s Health Defense, an organization that regularly spreads anti-vaccine misinformation, and promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories at campaign events.

Attendees at Monday’s event spanned the ideological spectrum, with conservatives, liberals and independents all gathering in Philadelphia for the announcement.

Walter Rodriguez, a New Jersey teacher who identifies as an independent candidate, said he plans to support Kennedy if she runs for office in his home state. Otherwise, he said, he doesn’t plan to vote at all.

“I’m excited about the energy he brings as a candidate and I think some of the things he’s talking about are things I identify with,” Rodriguez said. “Not to be so dependent on central control of everything, pharmaceuticals, politics. So the fact that he is declaring himself independent today is the right path to take.”

Carl Hagstrom came to Philadelphia from Westchester County, New York. He said he supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, but said he planned to support Kennedy in 2024. He said he was attracted to Kennedy because he felt the political outsider could bring unity to the country, unlike Trump, whom he said was too divisive.

“Just the constant craziness, the tweeting, the negativity, the out-of-the-zone reactions to things. It’s not sustainable, it’s not something that can bring people together,” Hagstrom said.

Sarah Shulman arrived at the event with a group of supporters from the Boston area. A pediatrician by trade, Shulman attended Kennedy’s Democratic campaign launch event in Boston in April and said Kennedy’s anti-corruption message and his positions on vaccines inspired her to support him. She said she voted for Biden in 2020 and had never considered supporting a Republican, but has felt disconnected from Biden’s message since he took office.

“He’s speaking our language,” Shulman said of Kennedy. “A Democrat, someone with a liberal mind who is kind, caring, who is also well-meaning.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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