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  /  News   /  Democrats unite against RFK Jr.

Democrats unite against RFK Jr.

Democrats desperate to see President Biden reelected are calling for more coordinated force against Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

The independent’s rollout this week of patent lawyer and investor Nicole Shanahan as his vice president prompted Biden allies and liberal groups to escalate efforts against him, fearing his newfound cash flow and ballot access could be disastrous in November. 

With a wealthy running mate by Kennedy’s side, Democrats say they should work harder to diminish his chances, insisting they need to spotlight his controversial positions and do whatever they can to make him an electoral afterthought. 

“Democrats should use every tool available to them to expose the truth about Kennedy and Shanahan,” said Doug Gordon, a Democratic operative. 

“Expose that they have no path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win,” Gordon said.

“Expose the fact that both Kennedy and Shanahan have peddled conspiracy theories for years. Expose the fact that their run is helping [former President] Trump return to the White House,” he added.

Others pointed to the 2016 election, when Green Party candidate Jill Stein took votes away from Hillary Clinton, contributing to the Democratic nominee’s loss. 

“They need to see what happened in 2016 and take it very seriously,” said one Democratic strategist who was involved in that race. “They need to not only call out Donald Trump, they have to do the same with RFK Jr. He should never ever be seen as a viable option.” 

This week, after Kennedy announced Shanahan as his running mate, Trump said Kennedy was “great for MAGA” because he would be “taking votes” away from Biden, “which would be a great service to America.” 

“He is Crooked Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, not mine,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “I love that he is running!” 

Biden has spent months all but ignoring Kennedy personally, keeping his sights solely trained on Trump. And those close to him say they don’t expect that to change. 

But that doesn’t mean Democrats on the outside are pretending he doesn’t exist. While they still see Kennedy as a joke, they are trying to plan more attacks accordingly. 

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and aligned advocacy groups are building out war room-type operations for Kennedy, intended to collect as much info that could damage him as possible. The DNC and pro-Biden organizations had planned to zoom in on Trump as he moved closer to the Republican nomination, but are now also treating Kennedy as a rival worthy of jabs.

Earlier this year, the DNC began to quietly ramp up their response to Kennedy and the prospect of other third-party candidates, devoting a full communications team and research operation to would-be spoilers. 

The team also includes lawyers such as Dana Remus, who served as White House counsel for Biden, to keep track of the states where Kennedy is on the ballot. To date, his campaign says he’ll appear in New Hampshire, Hawaii and Utah.

“We learned the lessons of 2000 and 2016,” said Lis Smith, the prominent Democratic strategist who was brought on board to help the communications effort. 

Minutes after Kennedy’s VP event on Tuesday, the team held a press call to push back. In February, they launched a billboard campaign in Michigan as Kennedy began a tour in the battleground state. 

“We’re making sure to counter him wherever he goes,” Smith said.  

And the DNC’s efforts are not met in isolation. Other established party hands are aiding in that anti-spoiler agenda, looking to guard against late-entrance threats.

“The broader Democratic apparatus has been stepping up its collective efforts to define the threat of third-party bids like Kennedy’s,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. 

At the same time, Payne added, “I think the president’s campaign team probably want to avoid elevating Kennedy unnecessarily, and that’s probably a wise strategy at this stage.” 

While Democrats’ offensive strategies vary in their intensity, most agree that they should focus on educating voters about his policy positions, especially around vaccine skepticism and restricting some areas of women’s reproductive health, where he skews towards the right.

“The more voters learn about RFK Jr. and his campaign, the more it becomes obvious to them he’s using his famous last name to play the spoiler who sends Trump back to the White House,” said Brandon Weathersby, presidential campaigns communications director at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic PAC.

“When voters learn of his strong ties to Trump allies, his wild conspiracy theories, or his right-wing stances on important issues, they routinely sour on an RFK Jr. candidacy,” Weathersby said. 

Kennedy’s supporters say they are up to the challenge. They see concerns from Biden’s backers as proof of the environmental lawyer’s ability to resonate with people who don’t want another Biden vs. Trump race. 

“They’re actually taking this thing serious,” said one Kennedy ally familiar with his campaign’s strategy. “They won’t admit it, they won’t be public-facing about it. They’ll insult Bobby by calling him names and then they’ll troll him by inviting his family to the White House,” the source said. “But in reality, they know Bobby’s a factor.” 

While Kennedy polls often in the low double digits — behind both Biden and Trump — his backers see the cross-party effort to deflate him as a sign that they may think he could get on more state ballots.   

“The fact that they’re committing any kind of resources into putting up this narrative around calling him a ‘stalking horse’ and then putting that talking point out to all their vessels in the media and all their operatives and their lower level in the DNC, that shows me that they’re trying to get something to stick,” the source said. 

At this juncture, Kennedy’s challenge is that he isn’t on many state ballots yet, including most swing states, where the election will ultimately be won. 

That’s for a variety of reasons: He had to declare a running mate to qualify for roughly half of them, which he had not done prior this week. He also had much less money, according to Federal Election Commission filings, than Biden and Trump. And while he has a high name ID as a Kennedy, he’s not at the same recognition level as the incumbent or former president. Some sources close to Kennedy acknowledge parts of the public aren’t aware that he’s running. 

With more money, he could alter the course of his campaign, which has been sparse in advertising other than one major $7 million ad during the Super Bowl, which Shanahan helped finance. 

The source close to Kennedy’s campaign argues that the more state ballots he qualifies for, the more he becomes a “real force and a real factor” in the general.

“That cannot be ignored by Joe Biden or anyone around him,” the source added.