Skip to Content Facebook Feature Image

Here's how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could make the first debate stage under stringent Biden-Trump rules

News

Here's how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could make the first debate stage under stringent Biden-Trump rules
News

News

Here's how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could make the first debate stage under stringent Biden-Trump rules

2024-05-18 12:10 Last Updated At:19:50

PHOENIX (AP) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has long argued that the biggest hurdle of his presidential campaign is the perception that independent candidates can't win. He has looked to the debates as a singular opportunity to stand alongside Joe Biden and Donald Trump in front of a massive audience.

But to make the first debate stage, he’ll have to secure a place on the ballot in at least a dozen more states and improve his showing in national polls in one month.

With a famous name and a loyal base, Kennedy has the potential to do better than any third-party presidential candidate since Ross Perot in the 1990s. Both the Biden and Trump campaigns, who fear he could play spoiler, bypassed the nonpartisan debate commission and agreed to a schedule that leaves Kennedy very little time to qualify for the first debate.

Publicly, Kennedy is expressing confidence that he will make the stage.

“I look forward to holding Presidents Biden and Trump accountable for their records in Atlanta on June 27 to give Americans the debate they deserve," he posted on the X platform.

CNN has said candidates will be invited if they’ve secured a place on the ballot in states with at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, the minimum needed to win the presidency, and have hit 15% in four reliable polls published since March 13. The criteria mirror those used by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan group that has organized debates since 1988, except the commission's first debate would have been in September, giving Kennedy more time.

Kennedy doesn’t appear to have met the polling criteria yet, although he has reached 15% or higher in at least two polls meeting CNN's standards.

The ballot access hurdle is even tougher.

State officials have confirmed Kennedy's place on the ballot in Delaware, Oklahoma and Utah, which have just 16 electoral votes between them. In California, Hawaii and Michigan, minor parties have selected Kennedy as their nominee, in effect offering up existing ballot lines, though the states have not formally affirmed Kennedy's position. Adding them would bring Kennedy's total to 89 electoral votes, though it's not clear that his position in those states would meet CNN's criteria.

Kennedy's campaign says he has collected enough signatures in Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas, states with 112 electoral votes in total. But he has either not submitted the signatures or they have not yet been affirmed by state election officials.

Those states still only add up to 201 electoral votes.

Independent candidates like Kennedy face a labyrinth of laws that vary wildly from state to state but generally require hundreds or thousands of signatures and compliance with strict deadlines.

The patchwork of laws is littered with pitfalls. And the Democratic National Committee has pledged to scrutinize Kennedy’s submissions for mistakes that could keep him off the ballot or at least tie up his campaign’s time and money.

Kennedy, in turn, has resorted to secrecy and creative tactics in a sort of cat-and-mouse game to get on the ballot before his critics can thwart him. In California, Delaware and Michigan, Kennedy allied with little-known existing parties and received their nominations. In Hawaii, he formed his own political party to nominate him, and he’s pursued a similar strategy in Mississippi and North Carolina.

Elsewhere, he’s waiting to turn in signatures until the deadline to limit the time for critics to pore over them in search of errors. Getting on the debate stage next month would almost certainly require him to change his strategy and submit the petitions he’s sitting on as soon as possible.

Signatures are due in New York by May 28, which would get Kennedy 28 votes closer if they're affirmed in time. He could then try to make an all-out push in a bunch of states with relatively easy requirements — many require 5,000 or fewer signatures, but they generally don't bring many electoral votes — or focus on bigger states, such as Illinois with 19 electoral votes or Florida with 30.

Further complicating matters, some states aren't yet accepting filings from potential independent candidates and won't before the first debate.

Kennedy’s vice presidential nominee, Nicole Shanahan, who is divorced from Google co-founder Sergei Brin, committed $8 million from her personal fortune for ballot access, the campaign announced Thursday, declaring their $15 million effort “fully funded.”

Associated Press writer Amelia Thomson DeVeaux in Washington contributed to this report.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, Monday, May 13, 2024, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, Monday, May 13, 2024, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

PARIS (AP) — French anti-terror police have detained an alleged neo-Nazi sympathizer suspected of wanting to target the Olympic torch relay, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Wednesday.

The Paris prosecutor's office said the man was detained Wednesday morning at his home in the Alsace region of eastern France. It said he runs a group titled “French Aryan division” on the social media channel Telegram, and was detained for questioning about death threats, hate speech and other postings he allegedly made.

The prosecutor's office said his alleged comments that triggered the probe by its unit dedicated to fighting online hate didn't specifically target the Paris Olympics, which kick off with a high-security opening ceremony on July 26.

Darmanin, however, said: “There was a willingness to intervene during a stage, evidently, of the torch relay."

The Olympic torch is nearing the end of its months-long trip around France and overseas French territories before the Games' opening.

Darmanin, who is staying on in a caretaker role at the interior ministry until a new government is formed in the wake of legislative elections earlier this month, said the suspect has previously been flagged by police “for ultra-right ideas, which can be termed neo-Nazi."

“We know that he had, a priori, a desire to hit political targets or people with immigrant backgrounds,” he said.

The prosecutor's office said that as well as alleged death threats and posts inciting hate, the suspect is also being investigated on suspicion of having shared personal information that put people at risk and of sharing bomb-making instructions.

The French capital's security operation for its first Olympic Games in a century involves up to 45,000 police and gendarmes, plus a 10,000-strong military force that is patrolling streets and sites in the Paris region and carrying out other security missions.

French Interior Gerald Darmanin, left, flanked by Paris police prefect Laurent Nunez, speaks during a meeting regarding the activation of the anti-terrorist perimeter (SILT) starting Thursday July 18, 2024, Wednesday July 17, 2024 in Paris, ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. (Julien de Rosa, Pool via AP)

French Interior Gerald Darmanin, left, flanked by Paris police prefect Laurent Nunez, speaks during a meeting regarding the activation of the anti-terrorist perimeter (SILT) starting Thursday July 18, 2024, Wednesday July 17, 2024 in Paris, ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. (Julien de Rosa, Pool via AP)

French Interior Gerald Darmanin, center left, flanked by Paris police prefect Laurent Nunez, center right, speaks during a meeting regarding the activation of the anti-terrorist perimeter (SILT) starting Thursday July 18, 2024, Wednesday July 17, 2024 in Paris, ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. (Julien de Rosa, Pool via AP)

French Interior Gerald Darmanin, center left, flanked by Paris police prefect Laurent Nunez, center right, speaks during a meeting regarding the activation of the anti-terrorist perimeter (SILT) starting Thursday July 18, 2024, Wednesday July 17, 2024 in Paris, ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. (Julien de Rosa, Pool via AP)

A woman pulls her luggage by Paris 2024 Olympic banners, just nine days before the start of the Paris Olympic games, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

A woman pulls her luggage by Paris 2024 Olympic banners, just nine days before the start of the Paris Olympic games, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

A soldier patrols on a footbridge over the Seine river, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. France's armed forces held a demonstration of the security measures planned on the River Seine, both in and out of the water, to make it safe for athletes and spectators during the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics. Organizers have planned a parade of about 10,000 athletes through the heart of the French capital on boats on the Seine along a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) route at sunset on July 26. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

A soldier patrols on a footbridge over the Seine river, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. France's armed forces held a demonstration of the security measures planned on the River Seine, both in and out of the water, to make it safe for athletes and spectators during the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics. Organizers have planned a parade of about 10,000 athletes through the heart of the French capital on boats on the Seine along a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) route at sunset on July 26. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

A soldier and police officers patrol by Paris 2024 Olympic banners, just nine days before the start of the Paris Olympic games, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

A soldier and police officers patrol by Paris 2024 Olympic banners, just nine days before the start of the Paris Olympic games, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Soldiers patrol on a footbridge over the Seine river, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. France's armed forces held a demonstration of the security measures planned on the River Seine, both in and out of the water, to make it safe for athletes and spectators during the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics. Organizers have planned a parade of about 10,000 athletes through the heart of the French capital on boats on the Seine along a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) route at sunset on July 26. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Soldiers patrol on a footbridge over the Seine river, Wednesday, July 17, 2024 in Paris. France's armed forces held a demonstration of the security measures planned on the River Seine, both in and out of the water, to make it safe for athletes and spectators during the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics. Organizers have planned a parade of about 10,000 athletes through the heart of the French capital on boats on the Seine along a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) route at sunset on July 26. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Recommended Articles