close
close

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. didn’t make it to the debate stage. He has hurdles to overcome to stay relevant

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. didn’t make it to the debate stage. He has hurdles to overcome to stay relevant
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. didn’t make it to the debate stage. He has hurdles to overcome to stay relevant

JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press

35 minutes ago

Supporters of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. protest outside Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif., Friday, June 21, 2024. Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN's parent company, plans to move to its studios in Burbank. CNN said Thursday the independent presidential candidate failed to meet benchmarks in both state ballot certification and polling results. The missed benchmarks mean the June 27 showdown will be solely between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Supporters of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. protest outside Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif., Friday, June 21, 2024. Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN’s parent company, plans to move to its studios in Burbank. CNN said Thursday the independent presidential candidate failed to meet benchmarks in both state ballot certification and polling results. The missed benchmarks mean the June 27 showdown will be solely between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

PHOENIX (AP) — Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will not join his better-known rivals, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, in Thursday’s debate in Atlanta.

And aside from a live-streamed response to the debate, he hasn’t announced anything public in the coming weeks. The same goes for his running mate, philanthropist Nicole Shanahan.


After a busy spring that saw him travel across the country with a mix of political rallies, fundraisers and unconventional campaign events, Kennedy appears to be taking a breather.

Kennedy’s absence from the debate stage and the campaign trail poses risks to his rebellious attempt to shake up Republican and Democratic dominance of the U.S. political system. He lacks the money for a barrage of television commercials, and he must spend much of the money he does have on gaining access to the ballot box. Public appearances are a cost-effective way to gain supporters and the media exposure he needs to stay relevant.

Kennedy himself says he cannot win unless voters know he is running and believe he can beat Biden and Trump. This problem will only get worse as the debate and the major party conventions that follow in July and August get more voters interested in the campaign.

Nevertheless, Kennedy continues to post regularly on social media and remains available for interviews, most recently with talk show host Dr. Phil.

“Mr. Kennedy has a busy schedule in July with many public events, mostly on the East Coast, including a large rally,” said Stefanie Spear, spokeswoman for the Kennedy campaign. “We will begin announcing the events next week.”

For Thursday’s debate, CNN invited candidates who were strong in four reliable polls and eligible in enough states to win the presidency. Kennedy did not meet either requirement.

He protested vehemently against the rules, accused CNN of collaborating with Biden and Trump in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission, and threatened to sue.

Sujat Desai, a 20-year-old student from Pleasanton, California, who supports Kennedy, said Kennedy’s absence from the debate was a major hurdle for him to overcome.

“I don’t think you can get attention if you’re not on the debate stage,” Desai said. “I think it’s a pretty fatal blow not to be in this debate, and it would be damaging not to be in the next one.”

Still, Desai said he would not be dissuaded from voting for Kennedy, even though his chances of being elected in November appear slim.

“I think this is probably the strongest independent candidate I’ve seen in a long time, so I’ll give him that,” Desai said. “I think he’s doing well, definitely. His policies are strong enough to win, I just don’t know if the awareness is there.”

Kennedy plans to answer the same questions asked of Biden and Trump in real time in a live stream.

Independent and third-party candidates like Kennedy have little chance, but Kennedy’s campaign has spooked partisans on both sides who fear he could swing the election against them. Biden’s supporters worry that his famous Democratic name and commitment to the environment could alienate voters on the left. Trump’s supporters worry that his idiosyncratic views, particularly his questioning of the scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and effective, could appeal to people who might otherwise vote for Trump.

Christy Jones, 54, a holistic health and mindfulness coach from Glendora, Calif., worries that people won’t know Kennedy is running if he’s not standing next to Biden and Trump at the debate. But she said he’s still all over her social media feeds and she’s confident he’s making himself visible.

“I think he could still win if people are brave,” she said. “If all the people who really want change voted for him, he would be in. People are demanding change.”

Until recently, Kennedy advertised a variety of events, including public rallies and private fundraisers, on his website weeks or more in advance. He hosted comedy nights featuring prominent comedians in Michigan and Tennessee.

But since attending the premiere of a film about fighting addiction on June 15, Kennedy has grown somber, even as he continues to organize in-person and virtual events for his supporters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *