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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

RFK Jr. Ballot Access and Veep Money

Our most recent book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. The 2024 race has begun.

 Voters are not happy about having to choose between Trump and Biden.  Nevertheless, it is dawning on people that third parties face daunting barriers in American politics.

In the past week the Democratic Party and other outside groups have put together a team to oppose third-party and independent candidates, a sign that Democrats are ready to fight back against candidacies they perceive as spoiler threats, like Kennedy.

The effort is staffed by longtime operatives like communications consultant Lis Smith, who helped guide Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign, and Dana Remus, who until recently served as Biden’s White House counsel, underscoring the seriousness of the concern.

The Democratic National Committee calls Kennedy a “stalking horse” who will increase Trump’s chances of winning in November. They point to significant contributions from Timothy Mellon, a Trump mega donor, to American Values 2024, and to lingering concerns that in 2016 third-party candidates may have tipped the presidency to Trump.

While Democratic attention was initially directed toward the wide array of third-party contenders, such as independent Cornel West and the No Labels coalition, Kennedy has become the focus of more energy as of late.

Geoffrey Skelley at ABC:

At this still-early juncture, just one minor candidate or party has qualified in enough states to theoretically win the presidency with 270 of the Electoral College's 538 electoral votes (note our publication's name). So far, the Libertarian Party looks likely to appear on at least 37 state ballots worth 381 electoral votes, having made the ballot in 36 states, according to Ballot Access News, and submitted petition signatures in Ohio. (Because many states won't confirm qualification until later this year, we're including cases in which a party or candidate has submitted qualification signatures or claims to have enough backing to qualify, as long as such claims can't be contradicted by available data. In a few cases, qualification might not actually happen.)
The Libertarians are in this position because they're arguably the most well-supported minor party nationally, with about three times as many registered voters as the next-closest third party, the Green Party. For their part, the Greens look to have access in about 21 states, having recently submitted signatures in South Dakota. No Labels, the bipartisan group behind this cycle's most-ballyhooed third-party bid, seems on course to overtake the Greens: Overall, the organization claims to have qualified in 18 states, while Ballot Access News noted that the group had completed its registration or signature drives to qualify as a party in at least four other states — this despite No Labels's insistence that it's not a party. Meanwhile, the conservative Constitution Party has also made 12 state ballots and looks to have met the signature requirement for a 13th in North Carolina.

Beyond these party or quasi-party organizations, Kennedy's campaign has officially made the ballot in one state — Utah — and claims to have qualified in three others, while an allied super PAC claims to have sufficient signatures for Kennedy to make the ballot in four more. For his part, West claims to have made the ballot in four states so far.

Ballot access efforts take money.  RFK Jr. picked a running mate who has money: Nicole Shanahan.  Teddy Schleifer reports at Puck:

Shanahan, by all accounts a true believer in Kennedy’s third-party cause, discovered the candidate in a now familiar, almost stereotypical way. According to associates, her evolution away from the political mainstream began while researching her daughter’s autism diagnosis. Shanahan was consumed, she has said, spending more than half of her time investigating the condition and talking to scientists. (Connections between vaccines and autism have been repeatedly debunked.) In the end, her curiosity led her to Kennedy, an environmental lawyer now better known as one of the nation’s leading anti-vaccine advocates.

There was also her divorce, finalized last year, which gave her a checkbook without interference from Bayshore. In mid-2022, she started a new family office, Planeta Management, which gave the $4 million check to the super PAC. And presumably that’s just a taste of the capital Shanahan has at her disposal. The terms of her divorce settlement with Brin haven’t been made public, but as I’ve reported, some R.F.K. allies had been told cryptically in recent weeks that they wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore—intimating the arrival of some serious cash. Presidential and vice presidential candidates aren’t limited in their self-funding.

Still, there’s the question that everyone is asking: How much capital does she really have to commit to their joint bid? My sense, for what it’s worth, is that I’d be surprised if she put in $50 million—but wouldn’t be surprised by $15 million. Perhaps that’s why a Kennedy campaign aide called me late Monday night to ask if her divorce settlement was a public document.

The money, of course, also accelerated her entry into Kennedy’s inner circle. Shanahan did not know Kennedy well before she made her first donation in mid-2023, I’m told by a source familiar with the relationship. But over the course of that year, Shanahan—enticed by R.F.K.’s appearances on various podcasts—began making connections with Kennedyworld, which was elated to welcome a hyper-connected Silicon Valley impresario.