Dec 10, 2023 - Politics & Policy

The expensive, daunting fight to get RFK Jr.'s name on state ballots

Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes a campaign announcement at a press conference on October 9, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at a press conference on Oct. 9 in Philadelphia. Photo: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is showing potential for the most formidable independent presidential bid in a generation, but now the hard part begins.

What's happening: Kennedy has yet to get his name on the ballot in any general election state. The super PAC backing Kennedy's bid announced this week that it plans to spend up to $15 million on the effort.

  • Their target states for the eight-figure effort are Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New York and Texas.
  • "We have chosen to pursue these critical states, some of them battlegrounds, due to the complexity of the state election codes and the volume of signatures necessary to achieve ballot access," said Deirdre Golffard, the special counsel of ballot access for the American Values 2024 super PAC.

Driving the news: Kennedy's first deadline is in Utah, where he has until March 5 to file 1,000 verified signatures to qualify for the ballot.

  • Kennedy's campaign successfully sued Utah in federal court earlier this month, arguing the state's original Jan. 8 deadline was unconstitutional.
  • "Utah is one of a number of states that have set extremely difficult barriers to any independent candidate getting on the ballot," Kennedy said in a statement after the decision.

Zoom in: At least six states require candidates to file for the ballot by June 30. Dozens of others have deadlines over the summer, according to Ballot Access News.

  • Kennedy said in a video soliciting donations for his ballot access mission that collecting the millions of signatures needed could cost as much as $15 million.
  • Some states also require that candidates pick their running mate when they apply for the ballot.

Between the lines: The Kennedy campaign has divided the state requirements into a tiered system based on whether they require a VP pick, the amount of signatures needed, whether there is a date for when they can begin petitioning and their various deadlines, his press secretary told Axios.

  • "There are a few other states that fall into that what we call our 'tier one' category, where you don't need a VP pick, you don't need your electors selected and it's open for petition collection," press secretary Stefanie Spear told Axios.

The super PAC effort could help support any legal challenges Kennedy may face over his ballot access, said super PAC co-founder Tony Lyons.

  • "The Super PAC is also preparing for inevitable attacks from both sides of the aisle," Lyons said in a news release.
  • "They will work overtime in a futile attempt to keep Bobby off both the ballot and the debate stage," he said.

State of play: Kennedy's team has volunteers in place across the country to help gather signatures for the ballot.

  • "We'll be doing rallies in pretty much every state," Spear said.
  • "Of course [the rallies are] to encourage signature gathering, but they're also for Mr. Kennedy to meet with the voters, hear their concerns and for him to share his policies."

The big picture: Kennedy, a prominent vaccine skeptic, announced in October that he was ditching the Democratic Party and running as an independent.

  • A Quinnipiac University poll from November found that Kennedy received 21% in a hypothetical match-up with former President Trump (38%) and President Biden (37%).
  • The last time an independent candidate earned more than 20% of support from a poll at least one year out from the election was Ross Perot in 1992, CNN notes. Perot ended up getting 19% of the popular vote.

Kennedy has boasted strong fundraising numbers, including ending the third quarter with more cash on hand than some of the GOP rivals.

  • He raised $5.1 million from small-dollar donations, and most of his large-dollar donations ($6.6 million) came from donors who had not given in recent elections, a Politico analysis found.

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