Biden, Eyeing the Threat From RFK Jr., Turns to the Kennedy Family for Help

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Biden, Eyeing the Threat From RFK Jr., Turns to the Kennedy Family for Help


Thursday’s elaborate rollout of a Kennedy family endorsement of President Biden — talk show interviews, a campaign rally with the president — was the strongest sign yet of growing concern in the Biden camp that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent white bid of the House of Representatives poses a serious threat to the president’s re-election prospects.

Members of this prominent Democratic family, including most of Mr. Kennedy’s siblings, had already signaled their support for Mr. Biden. Mr. Kennedy’s alienation from much of his family became increasingly clear over the years as he became a leading spokesman against Covid vaccines and spread conspiracy theories about the assassination of his father Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

But this was the first time that Mr. Biden’s campaign so aggressively championed the Kennedys’ strong support of the president and openly pushed to discredit any enduring Democratic credentials that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. holds because of his family name .

After leaving the work to outside liberal groups, the Biden campaign has now joined the effort to define Mr. Kennedy beyond the vague memories of his father and two uncles that, for many members of Mr. Biden’s frayed coalition, including black voters, Latinos and blue-collar voters continue to symbolize democratic politics in America.

Democrats’ concerns about Mr. Kennedy have grown as he stepped up his attacks on the president and worked to win votes in battleground states. Michigan election officials announced Thursday that he had secured a spot as a member of a little-known third party.

“I can only imagine how Donald Trump’s outrageous lies and behavior would horrify my father, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who proudly served as Attorney General of the United States and kept his promise to uphold the law and protect the country “Protect us,” Kerry Kennedy, one of the independent presidential candidate’s siblings, said as she stood next to Mr. Biden and addressed about 150 people at a recreation center gym in Philadelphia. “Dad stood for equal justice, for human rights and freedom from hardship and fear. Just like President Biden is doing today.”

“Almost every single grandchild of Joe and Rose Kennedy supports Joe Biden,” she said. “That’s right: The Kennedy family supports Joe Biden for president.”

In his response on social media, Mr. Kennedy avoided addressing his family’s opposition to his candidacy.

“I heard that some of my family members will be supporting President Biden today,” he wrote. “I’m happy that they are politically active – it’s a family tradition. We are divided in our opinions but united in our love for one another.”

Mr. Biden thanked the Kennedy family for their support and spoke repeatedly about how much the Kennedys — particularly John and Robert F. Kennedy — had shaped his views and his political career.

“Today I sit behind the Resolute Desk where President John F. Kennedy once sat,” he said. “I’m sitting at this desk and looking in front of the fireplace. A bust of Martin Luther King can be seen on the left. On the right is a bust of your father.”

Indeed, the debate remains open over whether a Kennedy candidacy would be more damaging to Mr. Biden than to former President Donald J. Trump. (One point on which the two main candidates’ camps agree is that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has little chance of winning the White House himself.)

Mr. Biden’s advisers argued that Democrats who may be attracted to the Kennedy name will defect as they learn more about his spread of conspiracy theories and the financial support that a major Trump donor has given his super PAC.

According to the poll average of 538, voters have expressed increasing disapproval of Mr. Kennedy. As Mr. Kennedy has gained more news media attention over the past month, the share of Americans who have a negative view of him has increased by about six percentage points. In Wisconsin, a key battleground, Mr. Kennedy is receiving more votes from independents and Republicans than from Democrats, according to a Marquette Law School poll in April.

Still, his campaign is moving forward vigorously in the face of the tough re-election fight Mr. Biden faces, and Thursday’s events were the latest example of that.

While the Kennedy family is no longer what it once was in American politics and is becoming less important to a new generation of voters who may be more familiar with the Clintons than the Kennedys, they are among voters in Still potentially influential in battleground states like Pennsylvania that appear to be at risk of switching to Mr. Trump.

“There’s a very famous tour that JFK did in the 1962 midterms of smaller towns in western Pennsylvania,” said Conor Lamb, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. “In each of these cities, there are still pictures on the walls of Kennedy and how much he meant to them.”

At 70, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. looks a lot like his father and uncles John and Edward M. Kennedy. In the Kennedy family, before his ideological drift in recent years, he was considered Robert F. Kennedy’s most politically gifted child with the greatest potential for his own career in electoral politics.

But now a Democratic presidential campaign is trying to define him as a candidate who, despite his name and legacy, is more politically aligned with Mr. Trump than with the Kennedy whose portrait sits on these walls in western Pennsylvania.

“If you put Kennedy’s name on the ballot, Democrats will feel torn,” Joseph P. Kennedy II said in an interview after the event. “And we try to make it clear to them that this is an issue that they don’t have to feel torn about.”

Asked if he would encourage his brother to quit, he replied: “Of course I would.”

If Robert F. Kennedy Jr. still stays in the race, Democrats hope they can ensure that his support comes primarily from voters who might otherwise have supported Mr. Trump, simultaneously strengthening Mr. Biden and weakening his Republican rival. Mr. Trump appears to be aware of this danger and has stepped up his attacks on Mr. Kennedy and sought to portray him as part of the “radical left.”

The main super PAC supporting Mr. Trump, MAGA Inc., launched a website this week pushing those attacks and criticizing Mr. Kennedy over his policies on taxes, gun control and climate change. (The site’s name uses Mr. Kennedy’s initials to describe him as “radical” and an epithet expressing contempt.)

Still, Mr. Trump has spoken privately with aides about the idea of ​​choosing Mr. Kennedy as his running mate, although it is unclear whether he is serious about the idea. When asked about it at a campaign stop in Harlem on Tuesday, Mr. Trump described Mr. Kennedy as a “nice guy” and a “good person.” Mr. Kennedy said he would not accept a spot on a Trump ticket.

The blur of Thursday’s events also highlighted another contrast that could benefit Mr. Biden: While the president was campaigning in Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump was back in court in New York.



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2024-04-18 21:34:53

www.nytimes.com