RFK Jr., on march to get on the ballot as an independent, flirts with Libertarian Party

"We don't have every single issue in common," the party chair acknowledged.

February 9, 2024, 3:07 PM

LAS VEGAS -- Attendees of a Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. rally over the weekend in Las Vegas were met at the doors by people with clipboards soliciting signatures to get the independent presidential candidate on the Nevada ballot.

Anyone going to an upcoming Kennedy event should expect the same.

As an independent candidate, which he became when he defected from the Democratic Party in October, Kennedy is not guaranteed a spot on any state's ballot, forcing volunteers to gather signatures from ordinary Americans on street corners and college campuses, among other public places -- and at Kennedy's own events.

It is a meticulous process made more difficult by each state's unique minimum-signature requirements and windows for obtaining the signatures.

It is also expensive: the pro-Kennedy super PAC American Values 2024 is dedicating 70% of its cash to helping Kennedy access the ballot in 12 states, the group's founder Tony Lyons told ABC News. The campaign, which cannot legally coordinate with the super PAC, is spearheading ballot access in the other states.

So far, Kennedy has secured ballot access in just one state: Utah.

PHOTO: In this Oct. 9, 2023 file photo, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is seen on stage during Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Presidential Campaign Announcement, in Philadelphia.
In this Oct. 9, 2023 file photo, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is seen on stage during Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Presidential Campaign Announcement, in Philadelphia.
Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images via Getty Images, FILE

The super PAC's efforts have come under scrutiny: the Democratic National Committee announced Friday it is filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing American Values 2024 of providing illegal in-kind contributions to Kennedy's campaign by helping with ballot-access efforts.

"The campaign is taking a shortcut, outsourcing what is otherwise a core campaign function the super PAC," DNC legal counsel Bob Lenhard said on a press call Friday morning.

Lyons told ABC News that American Values 2024 "has been working independently from the campaign in accordance with FEC precedent" to get Kennedy on the ballot in 12 states.

"This FEC complaint is just another desperate DNC tactic to defame Kennedy, vilify him and drain his campaign funds," Lyons said in a statement to ABC News.

Kennedy Campaign Manager Amaryllis Fox Kennedy called the complaint a "nonissue being raised by a partisan political entity that seems to be increasingly concerned with its own candidate and viability."

"To my knowledge, we have yet to receive any signatures from American Values PAC or any PAC, nor have we provided any information that is not available to every volunteer and media outlet on our public website," Amaryllis Fox Kennedy said in a statement to ABC News.

Kennedy could end the need for all the effort by re-joining a major political party, which would earn him a place on every state's ballot.

He fueled speculation about a potential partnership with the Libertarian Party when he told CNN last week that he and the officials from the Party "are talking."

Libertarian Party Chair Angela McArdle confirmed the conversations in an interview with ABC News, but said their frequency has decreased in recent months.

"I maintain a good relationship with Bobby Kennedy and his team," McArdle told ABC News.

However, she acknowledged the former Democrat has some work to do to convince enough of her delegates that he aligns sufficiently with their values to earn their vote at its convention in late May -- during which the Party's roughly 1,000 delegates will vote on a nominee, who must earn a majority of the votes.

"I think that he shares some things in common with us values-wise on our platform that are really great," McArdle said, citing Kennedy's opposition to vaccines and his support of free speech. "But we don't have every single issue in common, and that's something that my party members and the delegates have to seriously consider."

An example is gun rights, which McArdle called "a red line" for many of her party's members. Kennedy has shared little of his stance on gun rights, but he said last year that he is "not going to take people's guns away," calling it "not practical," and advocated for "other ways" to reduce gun violence besides gun control.

"I think he's just trying to understand the nuance of" the issue, she said of Kennedy.

McArdle said that while some Libertarian delegates have criticized Kennedy on social media, he has "a lot of private support" within the party, but his appearance at the California Libertarian Party's convention later this month will be crucial.

"I think the way people receive him in California will be the real" barometer of his support, she told ABC News.

A unique campaign

But even as they court Libertarians, Kennedy and his campaign see value in getting on the ballot the hard way.

"Over the long term…it's going to put us in better shape," he told ABC News after the Las Vegas rally, where he spoke for roughly 35 minutes in front of a couple hundred supporters. "As soon as we complete ballot access efforts in each state, we turn that ground game to get out the vote."

Joining the Libertarians also risks undercutting a core part of Kennedy's identity: a candidate untethered to a political party who showed courage by bucking the Democratic Party.

"With the independent path, he controls his own destiny," campaign employee Kyle Kemper told ABC News after the rally, as supporters lined up to take photos with Kennedy.

"The independent run is an invitation to everybody to say, 'I choose independence. I choose an independent platform.'"

Kemper is emblematic of the oddities of Kennedy's campaign. Dressed head to toe in colorful campaign gear with a beard and long, dark hair tied in a bun, he described his role as "lead activator," which appears to involve bolstering Kennedy's public image.

"I'm here to help activate this campaign," Kemper said when asked to expand, before listing some of his responsibilities, such as "bring[ing] awareness to Bobby," selling "amazing merch," and "branding."

"I'm not a manager of a lot of people. I listen a lot and I interface, ask questions and garner feedback," he added, noting that he joined the campaign in the fall after a career as an entrepreneur and a "crypto bitcoin evangelist."

A campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for more information about Kemper's official role.

Kemper delighted in the uniqueness of the site of Sunday's rally -- a vast, warehouse-like room inside of what felt like a futuristic shopping mall, with restaurants and attractions lining a wide walkway while neon lights sparkled and bass-heavy music blared.

PHOTO: In this Oct. 9, 2023 file photo,  Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes a campaign announcement at a press conference in Philadelphia.
In this Oct. 9, 2023 file photo, Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes a campaign announcement at a press conference in Philadelphia.
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images, FILE

A spoiler, but for whom?

Kennedy's poll numbers suggest his support is small enough to make him a long shot to win the presidency, but large enough to cause headaches for the Democratic and Republican nominees.

But whether he would cause more harm to President Joe Biden or to likely Republican nominee Donald Trump is a matter of debate.

Democratic strategist Lis Smith last week suggested that Kennedy is a "stalking horse" candidate intent on helping Trump by attracting voters who would otherwise support Biden.

Kennedy said on Sunday, "I intend to win the election," and Lyons, the head of the super PAC, pushed back strongly, telling ABC News, "Any allegation that Bobby Kennedy is a stalking horse or isn't serious in his bid is absolutely wrong."

Conversations with nearly a dozen rally-goers Sunday, however, indicated that Kennedy may draw more support from the right than from the left.

All but one person who spoke to ABC News said they would vote for Trump if Kennedy were not in the race. That person said if Kennedy were not an option, he would rather sit out the election than vote for Trump.

"I'd be forced to vote for Trump," said Levi Cohen, a 48-year-old banker from Las Vegas, "and the reason is, with him I see less of a threat to our civil liberties."

John Davidson, a 59-year-old mechanic, said he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020 -- votes "against Trump," as he put it -- but would "probably be voting for Trump" if Kennedy were not an option.

Supporters said they admired Kennedy's decision to run as an independent as well as his command of the issues and willingness to discuss them at length at rallies and on long-form media outlets such as podcasts.

Also carrying weight with voters? His family's name.

Asked why he supports Kennedy, 55-year-old Keith Barnum told ABC News, "Well, for one, this guy," pointing to a photo of the candidate's uncle, former President John F. Kennedy, stamped on his T-shirt.

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