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Democrats pulling out all the stops against RFK Jr.

Democrats are taking extraordinary steps to prevent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from hindering their efforts to keep the White House in November.

From rallying Kennedy’s family around President Biden, to dumping opposition research and holding press briefings about how he helps former President Trump, Democrats watching Kennedy qualify for more state ballots are pulling out all the stops to prevent him from hurting Biden in the fall. 

“There’s no education in the second kick of the mule,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist who has advised Biden’s presidential campaigns. “In 2016, we saw the impact that third-party candidates had on the election. And we also saw potentially a fault line of not educating enough [about] what votes for those candidates could mean long term for the country.”

“We’re now feeling the results of the 2016 election in 2024,” he added. 

Kennedy has made some notable decisions in recent weeks that have caught Democrats’ attention, including choosing a wealthy running mate in Nicole Shanahan and announcing he would not run on the Libertarian Party ticket.

Democrats looking to preserve Biden’s electoral coalition are concerned by his strategy. When Kennedy was hurting for money, they took solace that he may not go the distance, noting how expensive it is to petition for ballots in each state. And when he was toying with a Libertarian bid, they also optimistically hoped he’d chip into Trump’s base instead of Biden’s. 

With both challenges now in the rear view, Democrats are focusing on what could come next.

“There will be a clear choice facing voters this November and the more they learn about RFK Jr, the more they will recognize that a vote for him is a vote for Donald Trump,” said Matt Corridoni, a spokesperson with the Democratic National Committee, which has now dedicated a new department to helping stop Kennedy’s White House bid. 

“We’re going to make sure he’s playing by the rules and we’re going to make sure voters are educated about his extreme positions and who is propping up his spoiler candidacy,” Corridoni said.

Kennedy contemplated running as a Libertarian for much of his candidacy, giving himself the option in case things didn’t work out in the Independent lane. But on Sunday, he shot down the idea definitively, saying it’s not part of his calculations and expressing confidence he’ll be on enough ballots for a third-party November showing.

“We’re not gonna have any problems getting on the ballot ourselves so we won’t be running Libertarian,” Kennedy told ABC News this weekend. 

Just a few days later, he qualified for the most consequential state yet — Michigan — bringing his battleground total up to four states, along with New Hampshire, Nevada and North Carolina. His campaign counts nine states in total on the ballot. 

Democrats have started pushing back hard. Biden was seen with members of the Kennedy family this week, who banded together to back the incumbent president. While Biden doesn’t criticize Kennedy, he’s taken some not-so-subtle steps to show voters that RFK Jr. is an outlier among members of his political dynasty. 

“His own family is endorsing President Biden today because they know that his ideas are dangerous and he will only help Donald Trump’s reelection,” said Rahna Epting, the executive director of MoveOn, which has led the anti-Kennedy crusade among the Democrats’ progressive wing.

As an independent, Kennedy’s supporter base is not neatly defined, but Democrats say he most likely will draw from Biden’s voters. That thinking has worried pro-Biden Democrats who see their mission this election as preserving democracy from a second Trump presidency. Kennedy’s campaign creates a wrinkle in all of that and inspired an outpouring of Democratic resources to focus on ruining his effort to get to the general election. 

“You’re starting to see the various corners of the Democratic square intersect and come together at a critical time in the campaign season because it’s so important for base consolidation to happen,” Seawright said. 

“A lot of people should have this notion of sitting on ignorance and shouting on substance,” he said.

Kennedy’s path now hinges on a more detailed state-by-state strategy that ballot experts say is difficult but can be done with enough time and money. He effectively took care of the financial issue by choosing a vice president with a recent history of helping fund his campaign.

The pick of Shanahan, a tech patent attorney and multimillionaire from Silicon Valley, was seen by Democrats and Kennedy allies alike as the mark of a more serious campaign with the potential to go until the fall.

This week, Shanahan poured $2 million toward Kennedy’s campaign right after he unveiled her as his running mate, furthering Democrats’ suspicions that he tapped her in part to help fund what is projected to be a very expensive bid for nationwide ballot access. 

Though he denies choosing Shanahan for her money, Kennedy is nonetheless reaping the rewards. His Michigan ballot access win started his new goal of ticking off multiple states in rapid succession. “We’re going to add probably two to three states a week,” he told ABC News. 

The Hill reached out to Kennedy’s campaign for comment.

The amount of Shanahan’s money, which is a point of speculation among Democrats, is seen as the most helpful contribution to his bid. While Democrats groan about an anti-establishment candidate funneling millions to fuel his campaign, Kennedy allies view it positively.

“I would say she’s a billionaire,” a source familiar with Kennedy’s operation speculated to The Hill. Shanahan herself has not publicly confirmed her net worth or liquid assets. 

Importantly, the money comes in handy to propel the tactical matters of the campaign, which for an independent look different from the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees. 

“You can hire foot soldiers to collect signatures if need be,” the Kennedy ally said. “And then you can also hire the most high powered, intelligent flood gate piped-in ballot access political attorneys to fight all these fights that the two parties are putting up.”

Democrats are also trying to make the connection between Kennedy and Trump more explicit, hoping to build a narrative around his views like vaccine skepticism and questioning of other scientific and medical advancements. More recently, his ticket’s stance on women’s rights has come into question, and Democrats are looking to position him more in the Republican camp on issues like abortion and IVF. 

“Robert Kennedy Jr. is leading an anti-IVF, anti-vaccine and anti-abortion ticket that has no path to winning 270 electoral votes,” said Epting, whose group builds popular grassroots support around those social issues. 

Trump, for his part, is playing his own hand with Kennedy. He’s been more outwardly complimentary of the independent, giving him credit for running and cheering on his bid. The former president said this week he “knows him very well” and previously said he believes Kennedy will hurt Biden in the upcoming rematch. 

Democrats are urging each other to come together, arguing the Trump political operation is working to build him up. 

“We can do more than one thing at the same time,” said Seawright about the Democratic Party’s strategy. “Quite frankly, so far we have the resources to be able to do it. We have the players on the field that have the ability to be able to do it.”

“At this point in the cycle, it’s true about education,” he said. “Educating the American public on not only what we’ve done but who’s fighting against that and who will remove that. Educating the public on the threats that exist today and how deeper and wider those threats can become realities,” he said. “But also educating on the consequences of having an electorate that’s split.”

“This cycle doesn’t present a one-off opportunity,” Seawright added. “It’s not an either/or.”

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