Politics and Government

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign downplays polling, fundraising, ballot access woes

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during the Libertarian National Convention at the Washington Hilton in Washington, Friday.
Jose Luis Magana | AP

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s longshot presidential bid has hit several roadblocks in recent days: after not hitting polling thresholds and not being on enough state ballots, he will not be on this week’s presidential debate stage.

The latest fundraising reports show the campaign does not have a lot of money in the bank, but Kennedy’s campaign manager and daughter-in-law Amaryllis Fox Kennedy is not worried about the prospects for the future of the campaign.

In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, she insists there will be a “three-way debate” Thursday, falsely claiming that the independent presidential candidate met the criteria published by CNN to appear on the debate stage alongside President Biden and former President Donald Trump.

The media outlet’s qualifications included a requirement that a candidate have at least 15 percent support in four polls from certain high-quality pollsters and appear on enough state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to actually win the presidency.

RFK Jr. met neither, and the campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission arguing that this week’s debate is illegal without his inclusion, even suggesting that CNN staffers could face prosecution if it were to happen.

Kennedy earned at least 15 percent in three qualifying polls, but his support has dropped recently: the latest NPR/PBS News/Marist poll showed Kennedy at 11% and a recent Fox News poll had him at 10 percent.

According to the latest press release from the campaign, Kennedy is officially on the ballot in eight states: Utah (6), Michigan (15), California (54), Delaware (3), Oklahoma (7), Hawaii (4), Texas (40) and South Carolina (9), which only accounts for 138 electoral votes, well short of what is required.

Even then, the campaign appears to overstate its current access: For example, Texas elections officials have not yet certified the petitions submitted earlier this year. In Mississippi, where the campaign previously said it had ballot access, elections officials there said that the “We the People” Party that would nominate Kennedy did not file the proper paperwork and is not on the ballot — for now.

Each state has different rules and thresholds for third-party ballot access, with different deadlines and different requirements for a candidate as opposed to creating a new political party.

Democrats are currently suing in at least four states, including Nevada and North Carolina, to keep Kennedy off the ballot. They allege the campaign misled voters who signed petitions and made errors with the petitioning process.

Compounding the debate denial and the ballot access barriers, the campaign has been crunched for cash.

In total, the campaign has raised more than $46 million, including $10 million in self-funding from vice presidential nominee Nicole Shanahan, and spent over $40 million, with roughly a quarter of that going towards security services and campaign consulting, according to campaign finance reports.

In May, the campaign brought in roughly $2.6 million and spent more than $6 million, mostly on ballot access efforts. RFK Jr. has almost $6.5 million in the bank.

Kennedy’s campaign manager attributed the decline to the state of the economy and said there are actually more donors to the campaign than ever.

“We’ve added more donors and supporters, for example, in the first four days of June than in all of the month of May, and likewise in May compared with the previous month,” she said. “And I believe that that’s a really exciting and telling sign of the growth of the movement. What we’ve seen is individual contributions — the actual total amount of individual donations go down rather than the total number.”

When asked what Kennedy would be doing on Thursday instead of attending the debate, his campaign manager seemed to imply that somehow Kennedy would attempt to show up to the Atlanta faceoff between Trump and Biden.

“Well, look, I think that the American people want leaders who believe in their ability to make up their own mind, and one way or another, there will be a three-way debate on Thursday,” Amaryllis Fox Kennedy said. “So I can’t share too many details now, but please stay tuned, and he plans to give the American people the three-way debate they deserve.”

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