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

Robert F Kennedy

AP Photo/Jose Juarez

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks to supporters at a campaign event, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Before Robert F. Kennedy Jr. can enter this year’s presidential race, he has one more race: one to get to the polls in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The bar for an independent presidential candidate in Texas is extremely high, but Kennedy appears to be on track to meet it — if he can withstand the all-but-inevitable legal challenges over the legitimacy of one or both parties’ signatures. of the two major parties.

On a sunny late afternoon at Candy Cane Park in Conroe, north of Houston, a Kennedy for President campaign worker collected signatures for a petition to exonerate RFK Jr. to be placed on the ballot. Gene and Aidan Harvey, a father and son from The Woodlands, were among the first to submit their information.

Aiden said this November will be only the second time he has voted for president. “(In) 2020, I voted for (Donald) Trump,” he said. “But I have a much stronger feeling for Kennedy, or RFK, and I think he just represents my interests much better. And I like his views on government and party systems and all that. I just feel like we’re too much. currently limited.”

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

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

But this time, the elder Harvey supports Kennedy. “I like transparency,” he said. “I think Trump has tried to do that. But I think this guy is a little more toned down. I think he’s a real middle-of-the-road option.”

Not long after, Angela Balboa of Willis also signed the Kennedy petition. She said she did not vote for president in 2016, that she did not like either leading candidate but was convinced Trump would still lose. In 2020, she felt different.

“I couldn’t imagine having a leader like that for another four years,” Balboa said. “And honestly, I didn’t feel like the Democratic Party was that much better, but I just felt very strongly that I didn’t want to be a part of it for the next four years.

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

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

That seems to be the main reason an independent candidate like Kennedy is gaining steam — that withdrawn 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 until now. I’m getting registered to vote so I can vote for this man,” said Kennedy supporter Juniper Jairala, a Chicago native and NASA engineer. “And that really inspires me and really gives me hope for change in this country.”

Starting on March 6, the Kennedy team rushed to collect signatures from people who had not voted in the primaries. They have until May 13 to collect 113,151 signatures at the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

“But if they want to be safe, 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 all those people.” . signatures and go through them with a fine-toothed comb.”

Jones recently conducted a poll for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. He found that in a multi-candidate race for president, Kennedy polled 10%, drawing support equally from Trump and Biden. Jones said Republicans may also want to challenge Kennedy’s signatures, albeit for a different reason.

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

Petition actions are expensive, but meeting those costs shouldn’t be a problem for Kennedy, thanks to his appointment of wealthy lawyer and technology entrepreneur Nicole Shanahan as his running mate.

“With Shanahan on board as the VP candidate,” Jones said, “she can spend an unlimited amount of her own personal money on the campaign, as opposed to the campaign being limited by FEC rules to the relatively small contributions that any individual can do. So Shanahan’s wealth should allow the Kennedy campaign to get on the ballot in most of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

Yet the fact that a Kennedy must turn to an outside source for money points to what may be his campaign’s greatest weakness: the fact that much of his immediate family has 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 onto the stage with Nicole Shanahan, after he announces her as his running mate, during a campaign event, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, California.

“(Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s) strength seems to lie mainly in having a cool last name, something that ties him to the Kennedy legacy,” said Bernard Tamas, an associate professor of political science at Valdosta State University and author of The Fall and Rebirth of American Third Parties. “So that’s why the Biden campaign is really doing the right thing strategically to undermine his legitimacy as heir to the Kennedy throne. And 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 might otherwise support someone with his name. Tamas said this makes it all the more important that Kennedy finds a clear focus to appeal to voters as an alternative to Biden and Trump. In contrast, Tamas pointed to one of the more successful independent presidential candidates in recent history, Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential campaign.

“If anyone wants to run as a third-party presidential candidate, 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. He took advantage of the frustrations at the time and raised a theme that other candidates were not raising at the time, what I would call a kind of reform populism, an anti-political approach. -Washington, pro-populist change.”

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

“RFK has nothing resembling such a strategy,” Tamas said. “RFK seems to be picking issues that may be consistent with things he said before, but not really seeming to focus on tapping into what is frustrating Americans right now. If someone is an anti-vaxxer, this is not the case. a new discussion. The anti-vaxxers are probably going to vote for Donald Trump and present matters in terms of climate change. There is nothing new about it. Just mashing them together doesn’t work.”

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

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