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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to announce his VP pick for his third-party White House bid

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. plans to announce his running mate Tuesday as he races to secure a place on the ballot for his independent campaign for president.

In advance of an event Tuesday in Oakland, Kennedy and his aides have circulated the names of several contenders, including celebrities with household names and no experience in politics. Those names include NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe as well as former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Speculation most recently has centered on Nicole Shanahan, a lawyer and philanthropist who bankrolled a Super Bowl ad for Kennedy.

“This announcement is really going to shake up the political establishment,” Kennedy said in a video he posted on social media last week.

Kennedy’s campaign has spooked Democrats, who are fighting third-party options that could draw support from President Joe Biden and help former President Donald Trump. As they head into a 2020 rematch, both Biden and Trump are broadly unpopular with the U.S. public and will compete for the votes of people who aren’t enthusiastic about either of them.

Without the backing of a party, Kennedy faces an arduous task to get on the ballot, with varying rules across the 50 states. He’s picking a running mate now because about half of states require him to designate one before he can apply for ballot access.

The requirement is already bedeviling Kennedy’s ballot access effort in Nevada, where Democratic Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar said in a March 7 letter to independent candidates that they must nominate a vice presidential candidate before collecting signatures. The letter came days after Kennedy’s campaign announced he’d collected enough signatures in the state. If Aguilar’s opinion survives a likely legal challenge, Kennedy will have to start over in collecting just over 10,000 signatures in the state.

“This is the epitome of corruption,” said Paul Rossi, a Kennedy campaign lawyer, in a statement Monday, accusing Aguilar of doing the bidding of the Democratic National Committee.

Kennedy has secured access to the ballot in Utah. He and an allied super PAC, American Values 2024, say they’ve collected enough signatures to qualify in several other states, including swing states Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, but election officials there have not yet signed off.

Kennedy is a descendant of a storied Democratic family that includes his father, who was a U.S. senator, attorney general and presidential candidate, and his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy.

He began his campaign as a primary challenge to Biden but last fall said he’d run as an independent instead.

Kennedy was a teenager when his father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated during his own presidential campaign in 1968. RFK Jr. built a reputation of his own as an activist, author and lawyer who fought for environmental causes such as clean water.

Along the way, his activism has veered into conspiracies and contradicted scientific consensus, most infamously on vaccines. Some members of his family have publicly criticized his views. Dozens of Kennedy family members sent a message when they posed with President Joe Biden at a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House in a photo his sister Kerry Kennedy posted to social media.

RFK Jr. is leveraging a network of loyal supporters he’s built over years, many of them drawn to his anti-vaccine activism and his message that the U.S. government is beholden to corporations.

The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, is gearing up to take on Kennedy and other third-party options, including No Labels, a well-funded group working to recruit a centrist ticket. The effort is overseen by veteran strategist Mary Beth Cahill, whose resume includes chief of staff to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, another of RFK Jr.’s uncles.

Many Democrats blame Green Party candidates for Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000 and Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016.

Jonathan J. Cooper, The Associated Press


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