Mar 21, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: RFK Jr. restarting JFK's "Viva Kennedy!" Latino outreach

Photo illustration of  Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in front of an archival photo of President John F. Kennedy and a photo of Kennedy visiting Mexico City in 1962

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: John Lamparski/Getty Images and Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Independent presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy Jr. wants to engage Hispanic voters by using a version of his uncle JFK's historic "Viva Kennedy!" platform — a model that gave birth to the modern Latino vote.

Why it matters: RFK Jr. is on the ballot in at least four states and is seeking access in others, such as Georgia and Arizona, where small political shifts among Latinos could swing a tight presidential election.

  • About 36.2 million U.S. Latinos are eligible to vote this year. Hispanics are more diverse and politically independent than when President John F. Kennedy launched his historic outreach program in 1960.

Driving the news: RFK Jr. will kick off a new Viva Kennedy! effort on March 30 in Los Angeles, says Rob Lucero, who is directing the effort.

Friction point: Some of RFK Jr.'s own family is openly supporting Biden and has denounced his attempt to use JFK nostalgia for his long-shot bid.

Between the lines: It's unclear if Viva Kennedy! '24 would tap into any Kennedy nostalgia among Latino millennials and members of Gen Z since that was a movement of their grandparents and great-grandparents, Brian Behnken, an Iowa State University history professor, tells Axios.

  • "It's embarrassing to even bring this up again," California Republican consultant Mike Madrid, author of the upcoming "The Latino Century," tells Axios.
  • "If that's who Robert Kennedy Jr. thinks we are, that we're still the community of the 1960s, then it explains why nobody's listening to him."

The intrigue: The announcement for RFK Jr.'s Latino outreach initiative was planned to coincide with the birthday of the late farmworker union leader Cesar Chavez, Lucero says.

  • RFK supported Chavez during the late 1960s farmworkers' strike and was present when Chavez broke his hunger strike.
Sen. Robert Kennedy Sr. breaks bread with Cesar Chavez as the union leader ended a 25-day fast in support of non-violence in the strike against grape growers, Delano, California, in March 1968.
Sen. Robert Kennedy Sr. breaks bread with Cesar Chavez as the union leader ended a 25-day fast in support of non-violence in the strike against grape growers in Delano, California, in March 1968. Photo:

Flashback: RFK Jr.'s father, the late Robert Kennedy, Sr., helped set up Viva Kennedy! clubs for John F. Kennedy's presidential run to galvanize newly organized Mexican American World War II veterans, who were fighting for civil rights.

  • The clubs were used to register new Mexican American and Puerto Rican voters and, in some cases, raise money for poll taxes — a reality under segregation.
  • The effort helped JFK capture 90% of Latino voters and win crucial states like Texas. It was the first national election in which Latino voters played a significant role.

Yes, but: Biden's campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguezthe granddaughter of Cesar Chavez — on Tuesday helped launch Latinos con Biden-Harris, a new outreach effort.

  • Latinos con Biden-Harris has not mentioned RFK Jr. in ads and has focused on former President Trump and Biden's record.

Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has not announced any specific Latino voter outreach.

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