Robert F. Kennedy Jr. picks Nicole Shanahan as his running mate for his independent White House bid

ByAaron Pellish, Eva McKend and Gregory Krieg, CNN, CNNWire
Wednesday, March 27, 2024
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. picks Nicole Shanahan as his running mate for his independent White House bid
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. chose Nicole Shanahan on Tuesday to be his vice presidential pick as he mounts an independent White House bid.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. named attorney and tech entrepreneur Nicole Shanahan as his running mate Tuesday at a rally in Oakland, California.

"I'm so proud to introduce to you the next vice president the United States, my fellow lawyer, a brilliant scientist, technologist, a fierce warrior mom, Nicole Shanahan," Kennedy said.

Shanahan's selection will accelerate Kennedy's attempt to gain ballot access in as many states as possible. Nearly half require a vice presidential pick to advance that process. Shanahan will also be tasked with broadening Kennedy's appeal and helping raise money to fuel his big-spending campaign. There has been speculation that the wealthy 38-year-old, who was previously married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, could reach into her own pockets to aid the cause.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. eyeing Bay Area lawyer Nicole Shanahan as possible vice president candidate in his bid for president.

Kennedy said he selected Shanahan in part because he wanted someone with whom he shares common values on agriculture, health care and Big Tech, while also aligning with Kennedy's vision on how leaders should carry themselves.

"I wanted a partner who is a gifted administrator, but also possesses the gift of curiosity, an open, inquiring mind and the confidence to change even her strongest opinions in the face of contrary evidence. I wanted someone with a spiritual dimension and compassion and idealism and, above all, a deep love of the United States of America," Kennedy said.

While major-party presidential candidates typically announce their vice presidential nominees closer to their party's nominating conventions in the summer, Kennedy is moving now so his campaign can transition into the next phase of its ballot access efforts.

The son of former US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, the independent candidate has set a goal to qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and Washington, DC. He is so far on the ballot only in Utah. His campaign has said it has gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in New Hampshire, Nevada and Hawaii, while a super PAC backing his White House bid has said it has collected enough signatures to qualify Kennedy in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and South Carolina.

The Kennedy campaign said Tuesday it is "already actively collecting signatures in 17 states and is kicking off its petition gathering this week in 19 additional states that are open and require a vice presidential candidate."

In her remarks Tuesday, Shanahan said she plans to "focus the next seven months of my life" working to help Kennedy meet his ballot access goal.

Kennedy's ballot access in Nevada, however, could be in jeopardy. In a statement to CNN on Monday, a spokesperson for Nevada's Democratic secretary of state said that "an error" had been made in communicating ballot access guidance to the campaign. The law indicates that candidates must "designate a nominee for Vice President" in their petitions.

Paul Rossi, a ballot access attorney for the Kennedy campaign, suggested Nevada Democrats were attempting to block the candidate from gaining ballot access in the state - a claim the secretary of state's office rejected. "In no way was the initial error or subsequent statutory guidance made with intent to benefit or harm any political party or candidate for office," spokesperson Cecilia Heston said in the statement.

Adding to the numerous ballot access hurdles are challenges from Democrats looking to stifle Kennedy, whom they portray as a spoiler candidate who could help former President Donald Trump defeat President Joe Biden. The Democratic National Committee has filed two complaints with the Federal Election Committee in the past two months, accusing the pro-Kennedy super PAC, American Values 2024, of committing campaign finance violations and of illegally coordinating with the Kennedy campaign to run its own ballot access initiative. Last week, the Democratic Party of Hawaii objected to the Kennedy campaign's ballot access petition there, temporarily blocking it ahead of a state elections office hearing Thursday.

Both Kennedy and Shanahan, who contributed to Biden's election effort in 2020, took aim at the Democratic Party on Tuesday, with Shanahan accusing Democrats of "losing their way."

"I am leaving the Democratic Party," Shanahan told the crowd of hundreds in Oakland, adding, "I do believe they've lost their way and their leadership."

Shanahan could play a role in boosting fundraising as the Kennedy campaign navigates the costly ballot qualification process and a general election campaign against Biden and Trump, each of whose campaigns dwarf the Kennedy team's fundraising totals.

New FEC reports show the Kennedy campaign raised just $3.2 million in February, while spending about $2.9 million, and it ended the month with about $5.1 million in the bank. American Values 2024 spent $8.8 million in February, including $6.2 million on a TV ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Shanahan told The New York Times last month that she contributed approximately $4 million to help the PAC run the ad and assisted in coordinating production of the commercial.

Kennedy has denied prioritizing a potential running mate's wealth when vetting his options.

"I would never choose a vice presidential candidate based on how much money they have," the candidate said in a NewsNation interview last week.

Aside from the need to begin gathering signatures in more than half the remaining states, Kennedy has offered little insight into the types of voters he's targeting ahead of his vice presidential announcement. In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Kennedy said his running mate would be "somebody who was aligned with my values, optimistic about our country and its potential, and able to run the country at a moment's notice."

Kennedy told supporters on Tuesday he selected Shanahan in part to offer a voice to younger voters and to the "working poor," two groups he hopes upon which to build a coalition.

MORE | Who is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and why is he running for president?

Kennedy is a huge longshot to win electoral votes, much less the presidency. But his campaign events have drawn large crowds of supporters and people interested in his message.

"I want Nicole to be a champion to the growing number of millennials and Gen Z Americans who have lost faith in their future and lost their pride in our country," Kennedy said.

"She's gonna fight for all those Americans who know what it's like to skip meals to pay for gasoline and watch food prices climb ever higher and wonder how in the world they're gonna make it through the grocery store checkout line," he added.

Other people whom Kennedy reportedly considered for the running mate position included former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, former television host Mike Rowe, motivational speaker Tony Robbins and civil rights lawyer Tricia Lindsay.

Challenging the two-party system

Kennedy has never held office but has inspired a small contingent of supporters drawn to his advocacy against public health mandates and the influence of money on decisions made by government and private corporations. He founded Children's Health Defense, an organization that regularly spreads anti-vaccine misinformation, and he has promoted anti-vaccine conspiracy theories at campaign events.

Shanahan echoed some of Kennedy's anti-vaccine beliefs in her remarks Tuesday, implicitly making the false suggestion that "pharmaceutical medicines" such as prescriptions and vaccines could be contributing to rising rates of autism diagnoses. She spoke about her experience in researching children's health after her daughter was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

"Pharmaceutical medicine has its place, but no single safety study can assess the cumulative impact of one prescription on top of another prescription, and one shot on top of another shot on top of another shot throughout the course of childhood. We just don't do that study right now, and we ought to," Shanahan said.

Kennedy's presidential bid began as a primary challenge to Biden in April 2023. He exited the Democratic contest last fall to run as an independent, saying he wanted to fight against the two-party system, which he said has failed to provide Americans with viable options for the presidency. His decision to challenge Biden has drawn criticism from Kennedy family members - a handful of them joined the president for a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House last week.

As Kennedy pursues his independent presidential bid, he has been in dialogue with the Libertarian Party, dating to last year. He met again with party chair Angela McArdle in February, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Kennedy told CNN earlier this year that he was "very comfortable with most of the values of the Libertarian Party."

While Democrats continue to insist that Kennedy would be a spoiler for Trump, it's unclear which major-party candidate he'd pull more support from, even as polls show him receiving significant backing in key states. CNN polling released Friday from Michigan and Pennsylvania - two states Trump won in 2016 that Biden then flipped in 2020 - showed Kennedy hitting 16% in Pennsylvania in a hypothetical four-way matchup with Trump (40%), Biden (38%) and independent candidate Cornel West (4%), and taking 18% in Michigan in a similar face-off with Trump (40%), Biden (34%) and West (4%).

Both polls showed Kennedy winning a plurality of support from voters holding an unfavorable view of both Biden and Trump, despite large shares of that group also saying they don't know enough about him to have an opinion.

Kennedy said he hopes his campaign can be a place for "homeless Democrats and homeless Republicans" to have their voices heard. He responded to the notion he would be a spoiler for either candidate, projecting optimism he can defeat both candidates.

"Our campaign is a spoiler. I agree with that. It is a spoiler for President Biden and for President Trump," he said.

Bernard Tamas, who has researched third parties in the US, said the spectacle around Kennedy's vice presidential announcement may not do much to move the needle since Americans historically have shown little interest in running mates.

"Vice presidential candidates don't tend to push elections very far, even for the major-party candidates. And for the minor-party candidates, where there's already lacking of knowledge, it's unlikely that they would have some sort of major impact," said Tamas, who teaches at Valdosta State University in Georgia.

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