Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Files Papers To Join PA’s Presidential Race As Independent

The candidate has officially filed his paperwork.

By Peter Hall | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaking in February 2024.
Credit: Gage Skidmore/CC License

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed papers last Thursday to run for president in Pennsylvania as a third-party candidate in a race where the front runners, President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, are in a dead heat.

While Kennedy has little chance of winning the election, his presence on the ballot in this highly competitive battleground state could be decisive. The question is, said one Pennsylvania political observer, for whom.

“When you look at his data it’s not always clear who he hurts more,” Berwood Yost, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, told the Capital-Star on Friday.

Kennedy’s candidacy in Pennsylvania is not a sure thing yet, Yost said, noting that his nominating petitions can be challenged to ensure that every signature is that of a registered voter and that the information of those who signed is correct. 

“I would bet that neither campaign wants him on the ballot so they will challenge all those signatures,” Yost said.

Kennedy’s campaign said Friday that it has submitted 9,000 signatures, nearly twice the number required for independent candidates, and that volunteers plan to continue submitting signatures.

“We now have a candidate we can vote for who truly cares about us,” the campaign’s Northeast Regional Director Jon Raso said. “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will give Pennsylvanians the government accountability they deserve.”

Kennedy is officially on the ballot in eight states, including the battleground state of Michigan, and has collected signatures for ballot access in 15 others including North Carolina, which is also a must-win for the presidency.

Members of Kennedy’s family, one of the most prominent in American politics, stood on a Philadelphia stage with Biden in April to offer the president their full-throated endorsement.

Neither the Biden nor the Trump campaign directly answered questions about possible challenges. And both parties have worked to associate Kennedy with the ideologies of the other, with the Trump campaign issuing a statement calling Kennedy a “radical leftist” and “environmental whack job.” The Democratic National Committee highlighted what it called “MAGA ties” through conservative mega donor Timothy Mellon as Kennedy sought to secure ballot access through right-wing third parties. 

Kennedy, nonetheless, resonates with some voters, Yost said.

The most recent Franklin & Marshall poll, published June 6, which focused on Pennsylvania’s closely-watched 10th Congressional District, showed Biden and Trump neck and neck, each with 40% of voters polled in the district. Kennedy was favored by 13% of those asked in the poll.

It’s unclear, Yost said, whether those who vote for Kennedy are taking their votes away from Biden or Trump. 

“We know that there’s a lot of disaffection among voters,” Yost said, noting the poll showed those who responded feel the biggest problems facing Pennsylvania are the economy and government and politics. 

And in the last two elections, the share of the vote received by independent candidates has neared or surpassed the margin between the winner and the loser. In 2020, Biden won by 1.17% of the vote, while Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen took 1.15%. In 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost by an even narrower margin, the three independent candidates collectively received more than 3.5%.

“I think people do recognize that historically a vote for the third party will not be a vote for the winner,” Yost said. “But if you do want to vote for someone who reflects your views on the issues or even if you want to register your protest about the major party candidates that’s a rational choice to make, I suppose.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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Pennsylvania Capital-Star

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news site dedicated to honest and aggressive coverage of state government, politics and policy.

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