Kennedy Jr. Standing Firm As Independent After Claiming Team Trump Asked Him To Be Vice-President Candidate.

Photo: Public domain. Robert Kennedy Jr. is running for president of the US in November, but how will support for the great nephew of assassinated president John F. Kennedy affect the chances of his two opponents?
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November, will see another US presidential election. While the two main candidates are two experienced men,  sitting President and long-time Senator from Delaware, Joseph Biden and former President Donald Trump, there is a third candidate with a famous name in the running who could steal votes from both the main candidates.

But nobody quite knows which candidate could lose the most votes to the upstart, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, himself the great nephew of assassinated president John F. Kennedy and a convicted heroin addict in his younger days.

To make matters more complicated, most US states always vote for the same party, and presidential elections often come down to the results in half a dozen ‘swing’ states that usually have close elections in two-way races, and often change sides.

In a three-way race anything can happen in those states.

Interviews with dozens of Robert F Kennedy Jr supporters here point to a paradox about Kennedy, who is running as an independent (nonparty) candidate, one of the biggest wildcards in November’s presidential election.

Conventional wisdom, backed up by some opinion polls, says that Mr Kennedy, a member of the country’s most famous – and Democratic – political family, presents more of a threat to Joe Biden than to the Republican nominee Donald Trump.

However, other recent surveys, interviews with supporters and a closer look at the issues that animate Mr Kennedy’s base tell a different story – that perhaps Mr Trump is the candidate who should be more worried about losing votes to the independent candidate.

“Given the status of politics in Michigan right now, I would say he’s probably more damaging to Trump,” Corwin Smidt, a politics professor at Michigan State University told the BBC. “But it’s a very uncertain situation.”

Opinion polls show Kennedy generally polling in the low teens or high single digits, percentage-wise. By all indications he is the most popular independent or third-party candidate since Ross Perot ran interference in the general election that saw Democrat Bill Clinton beating out Bob Dole to be elected to the White House.

Experts agree that support for third-party candidates usually falls off closer to the election, and that  Kennedy is extremely unlikely to win the White House. But that is not really the issue.

Yet, because of the tight electoral map, his significant support has the potential to influence results in some states – including Michigan, a key swing state – and ultimately determine who becomes the next president.

One of Mr Kennedy Jr’s most noteworthy – and controversial – issues is that he opposes mass vaccination, a position more popular with Republican voters.

After a career as an environmental lawyer, Mr Kennedy headed the anti-vaccine organisation Children’s Health Defense. Its support and fundraising skyrocketed – as did Mr Kennedy’s profile – during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His activism has put Mr Kennedy on the opposite side to most Democrats of a cultural and political divide that formed during the pandemic – and which was particularly acute in Michigan.

President Trump has touted ‘Operation Warp Speed’, the plan to produce a Covid-19 vaccine as quickly as possible by bypassing certain research requirements as the greatest of his achievements while in office.

But in April 2020, then-President Trump focused his ire on Gretchen Whitmer, the state’s Democratic governor, for imposing lockdown measures, tweeting: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” The state was the site of numerous protests against Ms Whitmer’s Covid policies, including tense armed rallies at the state capitol.

“A lot of the anti-Whitmer voters went for Trump in 2020,” said Mr Smidt, a  Michigan State professor.

He noted that many Michiganders drawn towards Mr Kennedy’s position on healthcare and vaccines tend to lean conservative – and thus would more naturally fall into Mr Trump’s camp.

Mr Kennedy’s “pox on both your houses” message resonates with Liz Glass, a 59-year-old self-described recovering Democrat who owns a delicatessen in Boyne City, in northwest Michigan. She voted for Mr Biden in 2020, but won’t again.

“I’m disgusted,” she said in a phone interview with the BBC. “It seems like the two major parties just want you to hate the other one, more than they have anything to offer that’s positive.”

But Mr Kennedy looks unlikely to be able to take advantage of one the biggest issues for disaffected Democrats, including Michigan’s sizable Arab-American population – the continuing war in Gaza. A staunch ally of Israel, he has rejected calls for a ceasefire.

The interactions between the two have been even more complicated than that. Although Mr Kennedy is a frequent critic of Mr Trump, he claims that he was approached by allies to see if he would be interested in being Mr Trump’s running mate. The Trump campaign has vigorously denied the claim.

 

At this point in the campaign the overall effect of Kennedy’s bid is unknowable, said Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the conservative Institute for Policy Innovation who has studied the history of third-party campaigns.

But, Mr Matthews said, his presence in the race could cause a number of surprises, not only in close battlegrounds like Michigan but also in some other states which seem relatively safe for either candidate.

“At a level of 8 or 9 percent – roughly where he is at in the polls now – his support could really jumble the outcome in a number of places,” Mr Matthews said.

Sources: BBC. X (formerly known as Twitter.)

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