By Jeff Louderback
Ahead of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s planned meet and greets in Austin, Texas, this weekend, speculation is mounting that the Democrat challenging President Joe Biden for the party’s nomination could run as an independent.
Until recent weeks, Mr. Kennedy has insisted that he is a Democrat and wants to restore a party that “has lost its way” from what it was when his uncle, John F. Kennedy, was president in the early 1960s.
His father, Robert F. Kennedy, ran for president in 1968.
Yet the Democratic National Committee’s warning that New Hampshire will face potential penalties if that state’s Democrat primary does not comply with new primary calendar plans established earlier this year has Mr. Kennedy considering “alternatives” and “keeping all my options open.”
“They’re trying to make sure that I can’t participate at all in the political process, and so I’m going to keep all my options open,” Mr. Kennedy said earlier this month at a town hall in South Carolina.
A few days later in New Hampshire, Mr. Kennedy told supporters that he would have to make a decision before Oct. 15 to run as an independent and that it would require around $15 million in funds to get on the ballot in all 50 states.
At the same town hall, Mr. Kennedy said that internal polling shows: “If I win the Democratic primary, I beat [President Donald] Trump by 8 points and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by 11 points.”
“If I win the Democratic primary, chances are I will have an easy time in the general election,” Mr. Kennedy added.
Getting on the ballot and having votes for him counted, Mr. Kennedy admits, is the main challenge.
Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted to replace New Hampshire with South Carolina as the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Under the proposed plan, New Hampshire must hold its primary on the same day as Nevada on Feb. 6, or face possible sanctions.
South Carolina will conduct its primary on Feb. 3.
Georgia and Michigan would follow, according to the new schedule.
Iowa, which holds caucuses, was removed from the list of early-voting states.
In 2020, President Joe Biden lost in Iowa and New Hampshire to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders before winning South Carolina.
The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington on Sept. 14 and voted unanimously to give New Hampshire Democrats another month to provide a 2024 primary plan that complies with the party’s guidelines.
It marked the third time that the DNC gave an extension to New Hampshire in hopes that state Democrats abide by the national party’s new primary schedule.
New Hampshire Democrats have pointed out that the state legislature is controlled by Republicans who are unwilling to change the state law protecting New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status.
If New Hampshire is found non-compliant, the state could lose half of its delegates to the August 2024 Democratic National Convention, where the party’s 2024 presidential candidate will be nominated.
An unsanctioned primary would likely keep President Biden off the ballot.
“We committed at the outset of this process to allow for every opportunity for states to honor the opportunity of hosting their nominating contests within the early window. We want to recommit to that principle and continue to work with the New Hampshire Democratic Party towards that goal,” Rules and Bylaws Committee co-chair James Roosevelt said on Sept. 14.
The DNC’s actions have led Mr. Kennedy to shift his feelings about remaining in the Democrat presidential primary or seeking an alternative path to the presidency.
At a NewsNation town hall in June, Mr. Kennedy said: “You know, people have said to me, ‘Why don’t you run it as an independent’ and I say ‘because I’m a Democrat,’”
“This is who I am. This is my identity. But I want my party back. I want my party to be the party that I grew up in. The party of John Kennedy, the party of Robert Kennedy, the party of FDR and Harry Truman.”
During an interview with The Epoch Times in Columbia, South Carolina, last month, he reiterated that stance when asked if he would serve as President Trump’s running mate or run as an independent or a third-party candidate.
“I’m a Democrat. The Democrat party has lost its way, and I want to return it to its traditional ideals,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“I’m hoping to run in the Democratic Party. If it’s possible to have a fair election in the Democratic Party, I will run in the Democratic Party, and I haven’t made any kind of plans other than that,” he said.
During town halls and meet and greets in New York City, South Carolina, and New Hampshire in September, Mr. Kennedy first brought up “keeping all my options open.”
He has widely criticized the DNC for several weeks for the organization’s efforts to keep him off the party’s 2024 presidential primary ballot.
In early September, he said: “It’s pretty clear that the DNC does not want a primary. Essentially, they are fixing the process so that it makes it almost impossible to have democracy function.
“They’re effectively disenfranchising the Democratic voters from having any choice in who becomes president, the Democrat nominee.”
Mr. Kennedy and his campaign insist that the candidate wants to compete in “fair” Democrat presidential primaries.
“We’re trying to stop the Democratic Party from making a mistake. We’re trying to help the Democratic Party come to reconcile with its own voting base,” Dennis Kucinich, a former congressman from Ohio who ran twice for the Democrat party’s presidential nomination and now serves as Mr. Kennedy’s campaign manager, told ABC News.
“Regardless of what’s been said, even by the candidate himself, we have not abandoned hope for the Democratic Party,” he added.
Mr. Kennedy, who is the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy, announced his candidacy in April to challenge President Biden for the Democrat presidential nomination.
President Biden has a 50 percentage point lead over Mr. Kennedy in most national polls, but there are growing concerns among many Democrats about the president’s age, mental fitness, and low approval rating.
An August poll by the Associated Press indicated that 77 percent of Americans think President Biden is too old to be effective for another term.
In the survey, 89 percent of Republicans say that, and so do 69 percent of Democrats who responded.
Days after a House hearing on censorship in July that saw Democrats attempt to block Mr. Kennedy from testifying, a Harvard–Harris poll showed that he has a higher favorability rating than any other 2024 presidential candidate.
Mr. Kennedy drew a favorable rating of 47 percent and an unfavorable mark of 26 percent, according to a survey of 2,068 registered voters, conducted from July 19 to July 20 and released on July 23.
President Trump carried a favorability rating of 45 percent compared with an unfavorability number of 49 percent. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a 40 percent favorable rating and 37 percent unfavorable, and President Biden’s rating was 39 percent favorable and 53 percent unfavorable.
Mr. Kennedy also had the highest net favorability of all 2024 presidential candidates in a June poll from The Economist/YouGov.
“Poll after poll, and our private polling, show President Biden losing to almost every Republican presidential candidate,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Before the DNC’s Bylaws and Rules Committee meeting, Mr. Kennedy released an open letter to the DNC imploring the organization to have “an honest election.”
“To my dear family of fellow public servants and caretakers of democracy, I would like to offer a heartfelt invitation. Please, lead by example and hold the most transparent, equal, accessible, and accountable election that has ever been seen in this country.
“You have the power to do this. You have the power to restore the faith of the people—faith in the Democratic Party, and faith in democracy itself,” part of the letter read.
“The DNC and the Joe Biden campaign have essentially merged into one unit, financially and strategically, despite the promise of neutrality in its charter and bylaws.
“The DNC is not supposed to favor one candidate over another. It is supposed to oversee a fair, democratic selection process, and then support the candidate that its voters choose,” Mr. Kennedy wrote.
Commenting about the letter, Mr. Kennedy said: “I am asking the leaders of the Democratic Party to lead by example and hold the most transparent, equal, accessible, and accountable election that has ever been seen in this country.
“It is my most sincere prayer that the DNC will rise to the occasion and restore a greater degree of democracy to the party that calls itself Democratic.”
After the DNC Bylaws and Rules Committee meeting, Mr. Kennedy noted: “Our primary for the 2024 presidential race is still not free and fair.
“An honest election would have each state allot delegates in proportion to the votes received. Sadly, the DNC chose instead to continue to threaten New Hampshire’s voters by saying that if their legislature doesn’t change the state election law on short notice, their votes won’t count,” he added.
“They’re exerting similar pressure on Iowa. The DNC is actively working to suppress the votes of Iowa and New Hampshire citizens and members of its own party. And everyone knows why.
“It is at the behest of the Biden campaign, which wants the first primary in South Carolina, where he thinks he can win,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“This is a dangerous attack on the basic principle of one person, one vote—and a blatant rigging of the 2024 presidential election.”
Kyle Kemper is an entrepreneur from Canada who lives in Sarasota, Florida, with his wife and two children. They are traveling around the country in a bus adorned with images of Mr. Kennedy and a slogan that reads “The Remedy is Kennedy.”
Mr. Kemper is the brother of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and is an ardent supporter of Mr. Kennedy’s campaign.
Outside the Omni Shoreham Hotel after the DNC’s meeting, Mr. Kemper told The Epoch Times that he would support Mr. Kennedy if he sought a third-party bid or ran as an independent.
“He is the only hope the Democrats have of bringing the party back to what it was before it became so divided,” Mr. Kemper said.
“In a perfect world, the Democrats would have fair primaries, and voters would decide who they want. But if he [Mr. Kennedy] decides to run as an independent or with a third party, that would give him even more time to build momentum.”
Mark Gorton is co-chairman of American Values 2024, a Super PAC working to get Mr. Kennedy elected president.
As the DNC held its meeting, Mr. Gorton stood in the Omni Shoreham lobby with supporters of Mr. Kennedy’s campaign.
He compared the DNC’s move to change the primary calendar and its potential decision to not count delegates in states with unsanctioned primaries to what the organization did in 2016 and 2020 to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“We all got a chance to watch what the DNC did to Bernie Sanders. He was clearly the most popular candidate in the Democratic primary in 2016 and 2020, and he was well on his way to victory, but the DNC played every game they could to sabotage his candidacy and rig the election,” Mr. Gorton told The Epoch Times.
“We will support Robert F. Kennedy Jr. whether he runs as a Democrat, an independent, or another party. There is only one decent human being in the mix of Trump, Biden, and Kennedy, and that is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.” Mr. Gorton added.
“This is a movement, not just a campaign. He believes in what he’s fighting for, and his supporters share his vision.”