Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is racing against time to get on the ballot in Texas – Houston Public Media

AP Photo/Jose Juarez

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks to his supporters during a campaign rally on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Before Robert F. Kennedy Jr. can take part in the presidential election this year, he is entering another race – a race that involves voting in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The hurdle that an independent presidential candidate must overcome in Texas is particularly high, but Kennedy appears to be on his way to overcoming it — if he can fend off the almost inevitable court challenges over the legitimacy of the signatures of one or both of the big two parties.

On a sunny late afternoon at Candy Cane Park in Conroe, north of Houston, a Kennedy for President campaign aide signed a petition to put RFK Jr. on the ballot. Gene and Aidan Harvey, a father and son from The Woodlands, were among the first to fill out their information.

Aiden said he will vote for president for only the second time this November. “(In) 2020, I voted for (Donald) Trump,” he said. “But I care a lot more about Kennedy or RFK, and I think he just represents my interests a lot more. And I like his stance on government and party systems and all that. I just feel like we’re doing that too.” currently restricted.

His father, Gene, who immigrated to Texas from Calgary, Canada, said he has largely avoided voting.

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“I believed that the best move people can make when they don't like the political process is not to vote,” Gene Harvey said. “And I know that somehow goes against belonging to a free country, but it is also a freedom that you have. I imagine what would happen if no one voted? That would be the strongest message to the government that they are not doing their job.”

But this time the elder Harvey supports Kennedy. “I like transparency,” he said. “I think Trump tried that. But I think this guy is a little more reserved. I think he’s a real middle ground option.”

Not long after, Angela Balboa of Willis also signed the Kennedy petition. She said she didn't vote for president in 2016, that she didn't like any of the leading candidates, but was convinced Trump would lose anyway. In 2020, she felt different.

“I couldn’t imagine we would have a leader like that for four more years,” Balboa said. “And honestly, I didn’t feel like the Democratic Party was that much better, but I just felt strongly that I didn’t want to contribute to that happening in the next four years.”

But after four years under Joe Biden as president, she had changed her mind again.

“I just feel really disgusted and unmotivated by our current political system and our candidates. The last two elections felt like two undesirable options, neither of which really worked for people,” Balboa said.

That appears to be the main reason an independent candidate like Kennedy is gaining traction — that disengaged voters who find both President Joe Biden and former President Trump unappealing want another option.

I've talked to so many people, other Kennedy supporters, who say, “I've never voted before.” “I'm registering to vote just so I can vote for this man,” said Juniper Jairala, Kennedy Supporter, Chicago native and NASA engineer. “And that really inspires me and really gives me hope for change in this country.”

Since March 6, the Kennedy team has been rushing to collect signatures from people who didn't vote in the primary. They have until May 13 to submit 113,151 signatures to the Texas Department of State.

“But if they want to be sure, they want to get 200,000,” said Mark Jones, a fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, “because it's very likely that Texas Democrats will try to challenge every single one of those signatures.” and go through them carefully.

Jones recently conducted a survey for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. He found that Kennedy received 10% of respondents in a multi-candidate contest for president, an equal split between Trump and Biden. Jones said Republicans may also want to challenge Kennedy's signatures, although for a different reason.

“I think the Republican who wants to keep RFK Jr. out of the election is Ted Cruz,” Jones said, “because our poll also showed that almost half of Kennedy voters in the US will vote for Colin Allred. ” Senate race, compared to only about a quarter of voters who would vote for Cruz.

Petition campaigns are expensive, but covering those costs shouldn't be a problem for Kennedy since he has nominated wealthy lawyer and tech entrepreneur Nicole Shanahan as his candidate.

“With Shanahan on board as the vice presidential candidate,” Jones said, “she can spend an unlimited amount of her personal money on the campaign, as opposed to the campaign being limited by FEC rules to the relatively small contributions each individual makes can.” Give it to the candidate unless Shanahan's wealth should enable the Kennedy campaign to get on the ballot in most of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Still, the fact that a Kennedy has to turn to an outside source for money highlights perhaps his campaign's greatest weakness: the fact that much of his immediate family supported the Democratic incumbent, President Biden, for re-election.

Nicole Shanahan and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., right, waves with Nicole Shanahan on stage after announcing her as his running mate during a campaign rally on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, California.

“(Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s) strength seems to lie largely in having a cool last name, something that connects him to the Kennedy legacy,” said Bernard Tamas, an associate professor of political science at Valdosta State University and Author of The Decline and Rebirth of American Third Parties. “That's why the Biden campaign is really strategically doing the right thing to undermine his legitimacy as the heir to the Kennedy throne. So I suspect this is an important development.”

That cuts Kennedy off from much of his own family's wealth, but more importantly, from the Rolodex of supporters who would otherwise support someone with his name. It is all the more important, said Tamas, that Kennedy finds a clear focus in order to address voters as an alternative to Biden and Trump. As a contrast, Tamas pointed to one of the most successful independent presidential candidacies in recent memory, Ross Perot's in 1992.

“If someone wants to run as a third candidate for president, they should study Ross Perot very carefully, because Ross Perot really knew what he was doing,” Tamas said. “It was a very well developed strategy. And he took advantage of the frustrations at the time and brought up this issue that other candidates weren't pushing at the time, which I would call a kind of reform populism, anti-populism.” -Washington, pro-populist change.”

Perot won more than 19 million votes in that contest, and the Republican Party took notice and adjusted much of his approach to elections in the years that followed.

“RFK has no comparable strategy,” Tamas said. “RFK seems to be picking out topics that might be consistent with things he's said before, but he doesn't really seem focused on addressing what's currently frustrating Americans. If someone is an anti-vaxxer, then that is not the case.” A new discussion. The anti-vaxxers will probably vote for Donald Trump. Well, Biden is already addressing the issue of climate change. There's nothing new about it, it doesn't work.

Still, Kennedy doesn't have to win to have an impact on the election. He just needs to get enough votes from one of the leading candidates in a few swing states like Arizona, Michigan or Pennsylvania. Tamas said it has happened before, most recently in 2000 in Florida.

“I don't think George W. Bush would have won the presidency if Ralph Nader hadn't run in Florida, especially because the Florida race was so close,” Tamas said. “The difference between Bush and Gore was 500 votes, and Nader had drawn a few thousand.”

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