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Election spoiler? How President Biden's allies hope to stop Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

WASHINGTON ― Haunted by election spoilers of the past, President Joe Biden's Democratic allies have mobilized against Robert F. Kennedy Jr., intent on stopping his independent presidential bid from dooming Democrats in November.

On the 2024 campaign trail, Biden has ignored Kennedy, the anti-vaccine activist and son of deceased liberal icon Robert F. Kennedy, as he focuses solely on Donald Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee.

But behind the scenes, the Democratic National Committee recently hired a team of attorneys, led by Dana Remus, Biden's former White House counsel, to monitor Kennedy's efforts to get his name on ballots of key battleground states before upcoming spring and summer qualifying deadlines.

And the DNC has expanded operations to paint Kennedy as a radical conspiracy theorist, rejected even by his family, whose campaign serves one purpose: boosting Trump's chances. Democrats are convinced much of the electorate isn't aware of Kennedy's controversial positions and theories or that he's boosted financially by a Trump Super PAC's largest donor.

"We're not taking anything for granted. No one wants to see what happened in 2000 and 2016 happen this time around, so we're putting pieces in place early," said Matt Corridoni, a DNC spokesman.

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Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Cesar Chavez Day event at Union Station on March 30, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. The 70-year-old candidate is pushing Latino outreach in a long shot Independent bid in the 2024 presidential race.

Trump: 'If I were a Democrat, I'd vote for RFK Jr.'

Seven months from the election, Kennedy has the support of 11.7% of likely voters, according to a . That doesn't make him a serious contender to win the election. But Kennedy's current double-digit standing is more than enough to swing outcomes in battleground states.

Democrats still blame Green Party nominee Jill Stein in 2016 for taking progressive votes away from Hillary Clinton, potentially costing Clinton Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Trump. In 2000, consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader won more than 97,000 votes in Florida, significantly greater than the margin of George W. Bush's victory over Al Gore in the state that gave Bush his victory.

"Any amount of shift, any amount that that RFK takes from either candidate, is a danger to them and could, in fact, flip the election," said Bernard Tamas, a political science professor at Valdosta State University and author of "The Demise and Rebirth of American Third Parties."

"If I was working for the Biden campaign, I would take it very seriously because you don't know what's going to happen with him. The numbers will probably drop a lot," Tamas said. "But you just don't know. It's an enormous uncertainty."

Whether Kennedy takes more votes away from Biden than Trump − or whether it's about the same from both − has been debated among political observers. Kennedy is also facing increasing attacks from Trump's Super PAC, MAGA Inc., which has labeled Kennedy a radical far-left liberal in a push to pull progressive voters from Biden.

Trump's allies believe that the multiple independent or third-party candidates in the race help Trump's chances, and are seeking to elevate their campaigns, reported this week.

"If I were a Democrat, I'd vote for RFK Jr. every single time over Biden because he's frankly more in line with Democrats," by his campaign Thursday. "I do believe that RFK Jr. will do very well, and I do believe he's going to take a lot of votes away from crooked Joe Biden."

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader announcing his candidacy for president in 2000 at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Voters view Biden, Trump more negatively than Kennedy

Kennedy initially launched a Democratic primary challenge against Biden before switching to an independent run last year.

Also threatening to peel off voters from Biden are left-leaning activist Cornel West, who is running as an independent, and Stein, who like 2016 is running as the Green Party's nominee. For now, the DNC is focused primarily on Kennedy, whose fundraising and organization far exceed the campaigns of West and Stein.

Democrats believe Kennedy's polling is inflated by his famous last name − arguably the most iconic brand in Democratic politics − and from avoiding heavy scrutiny until recently. Historically, third-party candidates perform better in polling than in elections, particularly months away from the start of voting.

Polling regularly finds Americans view Kennedy, who many say they know little about, more favorably than Biden and Trump. last week found 60% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Biden and 56% an unfavorable view of Trump, but only 39% view Kennedy unfavorably. Thirty percent of respondents said they hadn't heard enough about Kennedy to form an opinion.

President Joe Biden on April 10, 2024.

Democrats see the unfamiliarity as an opening to define Kennedy and keep him from siphoning independent and Democratic voters from Biden.

Mobile billboards funded by the DNC − featuring doctored photos of Kennedy and his newly named running mate, Nicole Shanahan, wearing red "Make America Great Again" hats − followed Kennedy at fundraisers in Florida last week.

"MAGA's spoiler candidate," a DNC ad placed in La Opinión, a Spanish-language newspaper based in Los Angeles., warned ahead of a March 30 "Viva Kennedy" event targeting Hispanic voters.

A billboard launched by the Democratic National Committee highlights how Robert F. Kennedy's Super PAC is receiving millions from Donald Trump's largest donor, Timothy Mellon on February 9, 2024 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In cable television appearances, Democrats are increasingly flagging Kennedy's long trail of conspiratorial statements — that to attack certain ethnicities, his uncertainty of the government's explanation of , and his warnings that the U.S. has been collecting DNA from Russia and China to

And they are highlighting Kennedy's considerable financial backing from Trump donors. The largest donation, $20 million, to Kennedy's main Super PAC, American Values 2024, , an 81-year-old Republican megadonor from Wyoming. Mellon has also donated $15 million to MAGA Inc., the 2024 election, the most of any donor to Trump's Super PAC.

A 'spoiler for both,' Kennedy campaigns says

In a statement, Kennedy press secretary Stefanie Spear said the campaign is "planning on being a spoiler for both President Biden and President Trump."

"We also plan to be a spoiler for the war machine, Wall Street, Big Ag, Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Energy, and the corporate media," Spear said. “If Americans are ever going to escape the hammerlock of the two parties and their corrupt backers, now is the time to do it. These are the two most unpopular candidates in living memory.”

Over the past week, Democrats seized on comments made by Kennedy in a CNN interview calling Biden a bigger threat to democracy than Trump and remarks from a Kennedy campaign consultant from New York who said her “No. 1 priority" is defeating Biden. it terminated the contract of the consultant, Rita Palma, for "misrepresentation."

Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives in Atlanta on April 10, 2024, for a campaign fundraising event.

The scale of the DNC's anti-Kennedy operation − and whether the party will spend vastly more resources to pay for television ads − is still unclear. It could depend on whether Kennedy is successful in qualifying for the ballots in the six to eight battleground states that could decide the election.

Solidly red Utah is the lone state where Kennedy has officially qualified to run as an independent for the 2024 election, though his campaign has touted collecting enough signatures in several others. Laws to qualify to run for president vary by state − and the team of lawyers hired by the DNC intend to scrutinize Kennedy's efforts.

"We're going to make sure that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is playing by the rules," Corridoni said.

Besides the DNC, several members of the Kennedy family have also raised alarm about their relative's bid. In a showing of support for Biden, dozens of members of the late John F. Kennedy's family visited the White House last month to celebrate St. Patrick's Day − with Robert F. Kennedy a notable absence.

Kennedy has found traction in 2024 election polling in part because of the vast number of voters known as the "double haters"− those who dislike Biden and Trump. Polling has found double haters make up between 15% and 20% of the electorate.

A ӣƵ/Suffolk University poll taken in March found 44% of double haters currently back various third-party candidates led by Kennedy, who drew support from 21% of these voters. Trump led Biden among double haters 25%-18% in the poll. Stein had the backing of 7% of double haters, while West was supported by 6%.

Cornel West speaks during a press conference calling for Congress and the US Department of Justice to launch a federal investigation into the hiring and promoting practices of United Airlines at The National Press Club September 15, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

But Tamas, an expert on third parties in the U.S., said independent or third-party runs that gain traction − most notably Ross Perot, who won 19% of the vote nationally in 1992 − tend to tap into discontent from blocs of voters who feel underrepresented. They often zero in on a singular theme. For Perot, it was economic populism.

Tamas questioned whether Kennedy's candidacy has the right ingredients to take off given the hodgepodge of issues he discusses.

At the same time Kennedy touts his environmentalism credentials in appeal to left-leaning votes, for example, he questions medical experts about vaccines and COVID while promising to "seal the border to illegal immigration."

"Since he's not defining himself, chances are the Democrats and Trump are going to do a pretty good job of defining him for him," Tamas said, arguing that Kennedy probably isn't as big a threat as he looks in polls.

"But − and this is a giant but − since 2000, these elections have been so close that it really is only going to take a shift of maybe 1% or 2% of the vote to potentially flip the election," Tamas said.

Reach Joey Garrison on X @joeygarrison.

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