"Shock" was the synonym heard most Friday evening to characterize Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s strong signal Friday night that he would abandon his renomination challenge to President Joe Biden and announce an independent bid for the White House on October 9.
Several sources say that Kennedy, son and nephew of three of the most beloved Democrats in the last 60 years, will soon unleash attack ads focused on the Democratic National Committee and what he feels are its rules that are slanted toward Biden. This will open the gates, the same sources say, to a reset presidential campaign as an independent.
So, can RFK Jr. get on the ballot, and who will he draw votes from the most — Biden or former President Donald Trump or any other Republican nominee?
Most of the experts who talked to Newsmax agreed that the rules for getting ballot access have grown more difficult than in the days of the most recent third-party contenders who were formidable: Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, George Wallace in 1968, and Ross Perot in 1992.
"The presidential election is not one election but really 50 elections run by each of the states with their own set of rules," former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath, manager of several presidential campaigns in the first-in-the-nation primary state, told Newsmax, "The legal task of ballot entry is complicated and expensive. The two parties may not agree on much but they share a common desire to control the process. I am not aware of any state that has made it easier to get on the general election ballot."
Rath also raised the question about presidential debates and the inclusion of a third-party candidate, concluding "I would be surprised that such a candidate could meet the criteria for inclusion."
As for Kennedy's potential strength in November, Rath said "the most I could see for him would be to hurt one of the major party candidates in key states where a state could be won by less than a 50 percent share. I suppose in that regard, Kennedy would be more of a problem for Biden because he could make it possible for the Republican candidate to win the state with a plurality as opposed to a majority of the vote."
Bill Ballenger, editor of the much-read, online newsletter on Michigan politics The Ballenger Report, agreed. In his words, "I would think RFK Jr. would hurt Biden more because of the Kennedy name. His policy positions that might be attractive to conservative Republican voters have someone else to vote for with similar positions — Trump!"
"He's likely to hurt Biden more," concluded G. Terry Madonna, long considered the premier pollster in Pennsylvania, "He's no threat to Biden but could earn some votes from Biden's base. Biden has had a huge lead over Kennedy in the polls [of Democrats]."
The closest model for an anti-establishment candidate like Kennedy is probably George Wallace in 1968," said Chapman University Prof. Luke Nichter, author of the critically-acclaimed new book "1968: The Year That Broke Politics," Like Wallace, Kennedy does not have a chance to win, but he has the opportunity to deny a victory to the candidate of one of the major parties. Perot [in 1992] did not win electoral votes, but Wallace did. Even if Kennedy does not, he has to a chance to change the popular vote outcome in the states that matter in the Electoral College result."
Nichter pointed out that "[s]ince the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, we are in a phase of exceptionally close elections. Kennedy does not need to poll as high as the 39 percent that Perot did at one point in 1992, or 23 percent as Wallace did in late summer 1968. He might only need five percent to make a difference in 2024, which would put him in position to cut a deal with one side or the other.
"My advice? Be ready for the scrutiny about to hit you, and study the 1968 playbook of George Wallace."
Asked who Kennedy would most hurt, David Pietrusza, historian and author of six much-praised books on presidential election years, told us he was "frankly puzzled as to who Kennedy might ultimately take votes from. There are certainly a huge number of disaffected Democrats. And there are certainly a huge number of disaffected Republicans. But that factor is counterbalanced by the sharp hostility that those disaffected persons might still retain for the candidate and ideology of the other party. Put another way, no matter how much a given Democrat might be disappointed in Joe Biden, he or she would be even more hostile to the thought of a second Trump presidency. The same dynamic would be in play for any anti-Trump Republicans who might wish to cast a protest vote for RFK Jr."
Pietrusza added that "it's always good to keep in mind that projected third party vote totals usually drop off dramatically by Election Day. And, of course, the real game is in the electoral college and the Democrats cannot afford to lose huge numbers of votes in such states as California or New York."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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