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Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign said it collected enough signatures to be on the ballot in North Carolina. Richard Vogel/AP

RFK Jr. Is Muddying the Politics in North Carolina

Biden’s and Trump’s camps are paying more attention to the independent candidate’s bid.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign says it has collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in North Carolina, and it’s clouding predictions in the 2024 battleground, where Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by just over one point four years ago.

Recent national polling places Kennedy, who registered under the new political party “We the People,” with around 10% of the vote, making him the highest polling third-party candidate in a presidential race since Ross Perot in 1992.

Political operatives on both sides of the aisle sound convinced that their guy is safe.

“The RFK whom we know as the anti-vaxxer, the peddler of conspiracy theories, all that is more Trumpian than anything in Biden’s campaign,” former N.C. Democratic Congressman David Price told NOTUS. “The number of Democratic voters that would reflexively vote for the Kennedy name is pretty small and will get smaller over the course of the campaign.”

North Carolina Republican operative Alfredo Rodriguez told NOTUS the state has “zero appetite” for a third-party candidate. “The race won’t be that close, even with RFK Jr. on the ballot. Trump will win,” he added confidently.

But pollsters in the state aren’t so confident.

“In all likelihood, he’ll draw from both sides for different reasons,” said David McLennan, director of the Meredith College Poll, noting 60% of the electorate has shown an openness for a third option outside of Trump and Biden. “We are seeing the number of people in North Carolina who desire an alternative to the two parties at the highest level ever since we started polling that question.”

Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll, agreed, noting “discontentment with Trump and Biden in North Carolina that allows a third-party person who has a well-known name to pick up more votes than they would in an election year that was not so divisive and polarized.”

He added, though, that Trump’s base may be stickier: “Trump has such a strong grip on the Republican electorate and on the party as an organization right now. Many of his followers and voters are loyalists to him. Whereas many Biden voters are voting for Biden because they support the party and they’re opposed to Trump.”

That said, both parties are certainly paying attention to Kennedy — enough to target messaging around his candidacy.

The Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee have ramped up their criticisms of both Kennedy and American Values 2024, the pro-Kennedy super PAC, making multiple attempts to tie him to Trump. In February, the DNC launched a mobile billboard campaign with trucks circling Kennedy campaign events highlighting his ties to Trump.

“It’s critical that the American people know that RFK Jr. is not what he seems in this race,” DNC Rapid Response Director Alex Floyd said in a statement. “His candidacy is being propped up by megadonor Timothy Mellon … RFK Jr. is nothing more than a stalking horse to help Trump return to the White House.”

Trump took to Truth Social following Kennedy’s announcement that Nicole Shanahan would be his running mate, calling RFK Jr. “the most radical left candidate in the race by far.”

“He’s a big fan of the Green New Scam, and other economic killing disasters. I guess this would mean he is going to be taking votes from crooked Joe Biden, which would be a great service to America,” Trump posted.

Kennedy began his campaign in the Democratic primary before announcing in October that he would run independently instead. The two PACs supporting both Trump’s and Kennedy’s campaigns share the largest single donor, Timothy Mellon, raising Democrats’ suspicions that Kennedy is a spoiler candidate intended to help Trump.

“People are seeing that name and saying, ‘Wow, I loved John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy, and I love the family,’” veteran Democratic consultant Gary Pearce said. “But, Democrats are going to find out a lot about this guy who ain’t one of them.”

Kennedy is known for his skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccines, once wrongly suggesting that they killed more people than they saved. His new running mate, Shanahan, has openly been opposed to IVF, calling it “one of the biggest lies that’s being told about women’s health today.”

In North Carolina, Kennedy’s campaign told NOTUS, it plans to emphasize “cracking down on corporate polluters” to “resonate in the third largest hog-producing state” and emphasize small business investments. They’re targeting Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, the campaign said.

On a national stage, however, Kennedy has a broader message, telling CNN that he believed Biden was a bigger threat to democracy than Trump.

Calen Razor is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.