PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the longtime environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist, said Monday he will run for president as an independent and abandon the Democratic primary, setting the stage for the 2024 election. The prospect of a repeat of the 2016 presidential race adds a twist. Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
Kennedy, a member of one of the most prominent Democratic families in politics, is running in a long-shot primary and has higher approval ratings among Republicans than Democrats. It’s unclear whether Republican support will translate into a general election when Kennedy also runs against Trump. Biden and Trump allies have sometimes questioned whether Kennedy would undermine their candidates.
So far, Biden allies have dismissed Kennedy’s primary campaign as half-hearted. Asked to comment on his potential independent run, a Democratic National Committee spokesman responded with an eye-roll emoji.
Hundreds of supporters gathered in Philadelphia’s Independence Square on Monday for Kennedy to speak, a fitting venue for his speech. Campaign slogans hinted at a possible new slogan: “Declare your independence.”
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Among the Kennedy fans in the crowd were several voters who said they did not consider themselves Democrats or Republicans and considered Kennedy a truth-teller and a breath of fresh air.
“He told it how things were,” said Julia Hill, a 23-year-old student from New Jersey. “He doesn’t sound like a politician.”
Other supporters, such as Brent Snyder, a disabled veteran from South Philadelphia, said they had voted for Trump in the past but were looking for a change.
“I’ve been noticing over the last few years that the Republican Party has been going down a path that I don’t like,” Snyder said. “It’s not that I agree with what’s happening to Trump, but I think he has more baggage than his country needs right now. The divisions right now are just terrible. We need someone to bring both sides together and let’s work together.” .”
Monday’s announcement comes less than a week after progressive activist Cornel West dropped a Green Party bid in favor of an independent bid for the White House. Meanwhile, the centrist group No Labels is actively working to secure votes for a candidate who has not yet been nominated.
Kennedy spent weeks accusing the Democratic National Committee of “rigging” the party’s primaries against him and threatening that he might need to consider other options.
In campaign emails and videos, he blasted the Democratic National Committee’s decision not to host a debate between Biden and other candidates and decried the committee’s plan to keep South Carolina up for grabs this election instead of Iowa or New Hampshire. Gain a leading position on the cycle’s primary calendar.
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“If they interfere with me, I will consider every option,” he said in September at a New Hampshire barbecue hosted by Republican former Sen. Scott Brown.
Far-right and anti-vaccine influencers close to Kennedy have also sent strong signals on social media suggesting he should or will leave the Democratic Party. Last month, Joseph Mercola, an influential anti-vaccination doctor aligned with Kennedy, conducted a poll on X (formerly Twitter) asking whether Kennedy should leave the party.
Although Kennedy has long been identified as a Democrat and frequently mentioned his late father, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail, he has in recent years been associated with far-right figures. A close relationship was established. He appeared on a channel run by Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and was featured on the “Renew America Tour,” a Christian nationalist roadshow organized by Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn .
Polls show that far more Republicans than Democrats have a favorable impression of Kennedy. He has also gained support from some far-right conservatives for his fringe views, including his open distrust of COVID-19 vaccines, which studies have shown are safe and effective in preventing severe illness and death.
Kennedy’s anti-vaccine organization, Children’s Health Defense, currently has a lawsuit pending against a number of news organizations, among them The Associated Press, accusing them of violating antitrust laws by taking action to identify misinformation, including about COVID-19 and COVID-19 Vaccines. Kennedy withdrew from the group when he announced his presidential bid, but was named in the lawsuit as one of the group’s attorneys.
Associated Press writers Michelle Smith and Will Weissert contributed to this report.