RFK Jr. launches independent bid for president, leaving Democratic race against Biden

The attorney and activist also said he was done with the Democratic Party.

October 9, 2023, 2:34 PM

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is dropping out of the Democratic primary race against Joe Biden to launch an independent campaign for president next year, he said in a speech on Monday.

Speaking to a crowd in front of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, he cast his decision to leave the party his family has symbolized for decades as in keeping with American values of individualism -- and his own platform, which mixes liberal policy priorities with more unorthodox positions for a Democrat, like tougher rhetoric on immigration and controversial claims about public health.

"Something is stirring in us. It says, 'It doesn't have to be this way,'" Kennedy said. "People stop me everywhere, at airports and hotels and malls on the street, and they remind me that this country is ready for a history-making change. They are ready to reclaim their freedom, their independence. And that's why I'm here today. I'm here to declare myself an independent candidate for president of the United States."

"I'm coming here today to declare our independence from the journey of corruption, which robs us of affordable lives, our belief in the future and our respect for each other. But to do that, I must first declare my own independence, independence from the Democratic Party," he said.

An attorney and activist, Kennedy is the scion of one of the country's most famous Democratic families: His father is slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Sr. and his uncle is former President John F. Kennedy.

PHOTO: Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks during a campaign event at Independence Mall, Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.
Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks during a campaign event at Independence Mall, Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke/AP

The younger Kennedy in April launched a long-shot bid against Biden for the 2024 Democratic nomination.

Since then, however, Kennedy has attracted relatively little support from Democrats in national polling, according to 538, though he has drawn millions in donations from a base of supporters.

An independent bid is a new twist in next year's election -- at a time when surveys consistently show voters have soured on a potential rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump -- though it's not yet clear if Kennedy can draw enough voters away from the two-party system to emerge victorious.

Bren Logan, a self-described Democrat and supporter of Kennedy's, said that she supported his move to run as an independent and dismissed those who called him a potential spoiler candidate.

"I don't play too much that realm," Logan told ABC News. "It's just noise to me. So, spoiler or not, it's a competition."

Another supporter, David Heether, said that despite the fact that there has never been an independent president elected in modern history, he has hope that Kennedy could be the first.

"The Democrats are frightened that I'm gonna spoil the election for President Biden. The Republicans are frightened that I'm gonna spoil it for President Trump. The truth is they're both right," Kennedy said Monday. "My intention is to spoil it for both of them."

Teasing his Philadelphia speech last week as one that would create a "sea change in American politics," Kennedy's announcement follows mounting speculation about his future in the party after repeatedly sparring with the Democratic National Committee over the rules governing its primary and complaints of what he called an unfair process.

At Monday's event, Kennedy called out some of his relatives for attending in support. Others in the family, however, have been vocally critical. Sister Kerry Kennedy released a statement on social media from her and three of their siblings denouncing his candidacy and calling it "perilous for our country."

Author and speaker Marianne Williamson is now the only notable challenger to Biden in the Democratic primary, though he continues to poll far ahead of her and party officials have said they support his reelection.

PHOTO: Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks during a campaign event at Independence Mall, Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.
Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks during a campaign event at Independence Mall, Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke/AP

Kennedy drew a sharp rebuke from Democrats over the summer after he was recorded citing a false conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was "targeted to" certain ethnicities while Chinese people and Jews of European descent were more immune. In a later appearance before a House committee, he denied that he is racist or antisemitic.

Kennedy said last month that he had not ruled out an independent run to challenge the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees in the November 2024 election, despite having repeatedly ruled out such a possibility over the summer.

"I'm a Democrat. You know, I'm a traditional Democrat, and … part of my mission here is to summon the Democratic Party back to its traditional ideals," Kennedy told Fox News in August.

But in September, he refused to rule out the possibility of an independent run during a campaign town hall in North Charleston, South Carolina, telling a supporter he was "going to keep all my options open."

At the time, Kennedy's campaign manager, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, dismissed the idea of him leaving the Democratic primary.

"Regardless of what's been said, even by the candidate himself, we have not abandoned hope for the Democratic Party," he told ABC News when asked about Kennedy's apparent openness to an independent run.

Last week, the Kennedy-aligned American Values 2024 political group said that it had been polling him without the D next to his name.

"I can tell you that I think the right move is for him to run as an independent," Tony Lyons, American Values' co-chair, told ABC News last week.

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