Biden’s allies move to sink RFK Jr.

The coalition of Democratic groups that pressured No Labels out of the 2024 contest is now turning its sights on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Billboards funded by the Democratic National Committee have begun popping up outside Kennedy’s events. Trackers paid for by American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, are following him with cameras. And another super PAC, founded exclusively to take on third-party threats, is message-testing ads on Kennedy in coordination with Future Forward, the flagship pro-Biden super PAC.

It’s a widespread effort among Democratic donors and strategists to neutralize Kennedy’s third-party threat to President Joe Biden’s reelection.

And Biden’s allies are now considering going even further, with a coalition of major Democratic groups privately discussing running a negative ad campaign against Kennedy.

Talks are preliminary, and the size and scope of the campaign — and even if it will go forward — remain unclear. But should it get the green light, the effort would likely be spearheaded by Future Forward; Clear Choice, another super PAC founded to stop third-party candidates; and American Bridge, another Democratic super PAC, according to two people involved in the effort who are not authorized to talk about it publicly.

So far, Clear Choice PAC has dropped a nominal $30,000 on digital ads attacking Kennedy. The discussion is whether to go bigger.

There is a deep concern that Kennedy and other third-party candidates “pose real threats to the Republic by helping Trump win,” said Matt Bennett, president of Third Way, a center-left group that’s involved in efforts to cut Kennedy down.

Bennett, along with several other outside groups, worked to pressure No Labels, another group eying a third-party run, out of the 2024 contest. Now, they’re turning their attention to Kennedy. “One of our biggest concerns is ensuring that this subset of voters absolutely positively understands who this person is and who he is not,” Bennett said.

“He is not his father. His numbers reflect his dad’s popularity,” Bennett said. “He is a right-wing crank. People really do not understand that yet.”

The offensive reflects a level of concern among Democrats about Kennedy siphoning votes from Biden — but also the opportunity they see in his potential to wound former President Donald Trump. Kennedy, whose storied surname has given him strong name recognition even among low-information voters, is a volatile force in the 2024 election. Public and private polling has found Kennedy, an environmentalist turned anti-vaccine activist, drawing support from both Biden and Trump.

Biden last month enlisted members of the extended Kennedy clan for help, appearing alongside more than a dozen Kennedys who endorsed him over the family member whose campaign they’ve largely shunned.

The push to undercut Kennedy — as well as Green Party candidate Jill Stein and academic Cornel West, both of whom are also running third-party bids — comes from Democrats who say they are motivated by the 2000 and 2016 elections, when third-party candidates played a role in Al Gore and Hillary Clinton’s respective losses.

One reason these outside Democratic groups have not yet been more aggressive in attacking Kennedy is due, in part, to the uncertainty as to where he will appear on the ballot and the staying power of his appeal in polling. So far, Kennedy has qualified for the ballot in Michigan, California and Utah, according to his campaign. His campaign also said that he’s collected enough signatures in seven other states, including Nevada, North Carolina, Nebraska and New Hampshire.

“It needs to be done in a very targeted way,” Bennett added. “We have to convince soft Biden voters that these candidates are not safe places to park their vote, so to do that, we’re going to focus on a very narrow range of voters in swing states.”

To date, the campaign against Kennedy has largely focused on research and legal challenges. The Democratic National Committee hired veteran staffers to coordinate their push back against Kennedy, particularly through media stories about Kennedy. They’ve also filed Federal Elections Commission complaints against Kennedy’s allies. The outside groups, like Clear Choice PAC and American Bridge, are diving into opposition research and messaging. MoveOn, a 10 million-member organization, reassigned staffers from No Labels-focused efforts toward Kennedy, as well as bringing on additional staff.

For its part, Kennedy campaign press secretary Stefanie Spear said in a statement: “Of course Mr. Kennedy draws from both Presidents Biden and Trump, but what the two parties don’t recognize is his strong draw from the ranks of independent and disaffected voters. Our path to victory lies in activating the millions of people who have been alienated from the political process.”

Recent public polling tells a complicated story about Kennedy’s appeal. In some surveys, Kennedy draws more support from Biden, like in an NPR/Maris College poll released this week, when Biden’s lead disappeared when third-party candidates were added to the survey.

Kennedy especially appeals to so-called “double-haters,” voters who don’t like either Trump or Biden. This group cuts across all demographics, but it is particularly pronounced among young voters. A poll of voters under 30, commissioned by Snapchat, found that “although Kennedy’s polling in the low double-digits right now, roughly half of registered voters are open to the prospect of voting for him,” said John Della Volpe, the pollster who conducted the survey and specializes in Gen Z voters.

“That’s a dangerous place to be,” Della Volpe said. “That being said, that group is also soft. Once young people know the degree to which Biden has delivered for them, then the appeal for Kennedy withers.”

Based on internal research, several Democrats noted that some of the strongest messaging frames for the double-hater voters relies on reminding them that “a vote for RFK is a vote for Donald Trump,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at League of Conservation Voters, which signed on to a letter of other environmental groups urging Kennedy to drop out of the race.

“For those voters who aren’t paying full attention yet, we must make clear that voting for Kennedy is throwing your vote away,” Maysmith added. “What we’re seeing so far is that when voters hear even just a little about his extreme positions, they are a lot less interested.”

Yet in other polls, Kennedy draws more support from Trump. An NBC poll released last month found Trump leading Biden by 2 points in a head-to-head matchup. But when third party candidates were added, Biden regained the lead by 2 points. Kennedy, in that poll, earned 13 percentage points.

That volatility could present an opening for Biden’s allies, as they consider their third-party strategy.

“I would prefer a Trump-Biden rematch with as few spoiler candidates as possible, but that being said, we’re going to play on the playing field we have and we’re going to turn every downside into an upside, and that really does exist for RFK,” said Pat Dennis, president of American Bridge. “The numbers do move when they learn about [Kennedy’s] conspiracy stuff.”

The scattershot polling results have coincided with a rash of attacks on Kennedy from Trump. Trump himself acknowledged that Kennedy “hurts [us] both” in a radio interview last month, while his campaign has blasted out press releases with headlines like, “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Praised Obama as ‘Good’ President” and “RFK Jr: ‘Red state people are more likely to murder you.’”

But the possibility that Kennedy could hurt Trump more than Biden has also raised new concerns among Democrats about “complacency,” Bennett said.

“The talk is, ‘well, if it hurts Trump more, clearly he’s freaking out about it, now everyone can breathe easier,’ and I don’t think that’s right,” Bennett said. “[Third party candidates] need to stay a top concern, and it’s important for people to understand that.”

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