Vocal about his opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine, adamant about physical fitness, and bearing a historic namesake — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. first posed as an interesting shake-up to the 2024 presidential race after announcing his candidacy in April.
But as Kennedy is expected to announce his switch from the Democratic Party to an independent ticket, strategists on both the right and the left are downplaying his impact on the race. Instead, they’re more concerned with a different third-party candidate: Cornel West.
West, a prominent left-wing academic and philosophical writer, announced his run for president June 5. The Green Party candidate is running on a policy platform that includes forgiving “all student debt,” conducting all elections through the use of “hand-counted paper ballots,” imposing term limits for members of Congress, implementing “Medicare for All,” breaking “up Big Tech” and disbanding NATO, according to his campaign website.
“Cornel West is a much bigger threat than RFK Jr. largely because black voters are the biggest part of the Democratic base and have been for years, particularly black women. And so a black candidate is naturally going to pull more black votes than a White candidate like RFK Jr.,” GOP consultant Mark Weaver told the Daily Caller.
Kennedy saw a spike in support within the Democratic Party early in his campaign, hitting a peak of 21%, according to an April 27 Emerson College poll. The number declined in the following months, and Kennedy now appears to be more popular with Republicans, according to a July Morning Consult survey.
A majority of Republican voters believe the country needs a third-party option because the two primary options do “such a poor job” of representing the American people, according to a Wednesday Gallup poll.
That approval among Republicans can most likely be attributed to Kennedy’s stance on vaccines: he is the founder of Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine organization that has linked vaccinations to children developing autism, despite a lack of scientific evidence. He released a book entitled “The Real Anthony Fauci” in November 2021, accusing the former White House senior medical advisor of participating in “a historic coup d’etat against Western democracy.” (RELATED: ‘Corporate Crony Capitalism’: RFK Jr Says Lockdowns Were ‘Final Straw’ Of ‘Merciless Capitalism’)
GOP consultant and MWR Strategies president Mike McKenna noted that while Kennedy has the name recognition as the son of the former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, he believes the organization behind Cornel West’s campaign means more in the 2024 election.
“The real third-party threat in this race is not RFK Jr. The real third-party threat is the Green Party,” McKenna told the Caller, noting the Green Party candidate affected Hillary Clinton’s race for president in 2016. “Cornel West doesn’t have the name ID behind RFK Jr., but he’s probably got a better organization behind him.”
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon echoed these sentiments while additionally predicting the Biden campaign will run ads within the next year that feature prominent members of the Kennedy family, such as JFK’s daughter Caroline.
“I just don’t see where RFK Jr’s support comes from as an independent,” Bannon told the Daily Caller. “Because a No Labels candidate, if there was one, has a base and financial support. Cornel West obviously has a base, a small base. I think [RFK Jr.] is pretty much going to fall by the wayside because I just don’t think he even has a small definable base, that I know of.”
No Labels is a national political movement that has previously discussed offering an independent candidate to run in the 2024 presidential election, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Scott Jennings, a longtime GOP adviser in Kentucky and veteran of numerous campaigns, predicted West will attract enough voters to potentially pose a threat to Biden.
“Plenty of progressives live around places like, say, Madison, Wisconsin, who would love to vote for Cornel West and stick it to the establishment,” Jennings told the Caller.”If all these people were to make ballots all over the place, especially in the key states, I definitely think there’s a world where they get a significant amount of votes — at least enough votes to potentially swing something.”
“I think both campaigns are right to worry about the impact of third parties here,” Jennings continued.
Jennings added there is a softness to Biden, especially as concerns about his age and fitness for president continue to increase. A majority of Americans, 77%, believe Biden is too old to govern the country effectively, according to a recent AP/NORC poll. At least 73% of Americans think the president is too old to run for reelection in 2024, a Monday poll by The Wall Street Journal shows.
Even though some consultants believe West is more of a threat than Kennedy, Democratic strategist Leslie Marshall told the Caller both Trump and Biden’s campaigns should still consider Kennedy’s expected move to the independent category as a threat.
“This could hurt Trump equally as much as it could hurt Joe Biden. It is concerning,” Marshall told the Caller. “It is concerning on both sides because the country is so divided. And right now, depending on what polls you believe, Trump and Biden are very close.”
“But I think right now the data shows that he will actually chip away a bit more for Trump than he will for Biden,” Marshall added.
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