RFK Jr Squeezed Out of Presidential Debate 

lev radin / shutterstock.com
lev radin / shutterstock.com

It was obvious from the start that neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump wanted RFK Jr on the debate stage with them.  

Kennedy was disadvantaged when the presidential debate, slated for June, was first announced in May. Debate host CNN announced that only candidates who had secured ballot access in states holding 270 votes or more in the Electoral College would be eligible to join. In addition, candidates were required to have a standing of at least 15% in four polls conducted since March. It was a way to ensure that Kennedy, who was already threatening Biden’s campaign, would be excluded. 

By themselves, the qualifications are not unusual. They echo the requirements established by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. However, the push for a June debate rather than the commission’s standard September one put Kennedy under a tight timeline to meet the qualifications. 

Further muddying the waters, the DNC launched an all-out assault on Kennedy, threatening to look for any paperwork errors they could use to derail his campaign. 

Despite high expectations when the debate was announced, Kennedy couldn’t move past the polling and ballot access requirements. In May, Kennedy had two polls meeting the 15% favorability criteria and was on track to meet CNN’s requirements by debate day. But the ballot access problem loomed large, even then. 

State officials have officially approved Kennedy’s candidacy on the ballot in Delaware, Oklahoma, and Utah, holding 16 electoral votes. Additionally, minor parties in California, Hawaii, and Michigan have nominated Kennedy, potentially adding to his total with those states’ ballot lines, although formal confirmation from these states is pending. This would increase Kennedy’s electoral vote count to 89, but it was uncertain if he could meet CNN’s criteria for inclusion in those states. 

Independent candidates navigate a complex web of state laws that differ widely, often demanding hundreds or even thousands of signatures and strict adherence to deadlines. When the debate was first announced in May, Kennedy’s campaign claimed to have gathered sufficient signatures in Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, New Jersey, Texas, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, totaling 112 electoral votes. 

Even with these states potentially confirming his candidacy, Kennedy’s electoral vote count was only 201. 

But Kennedy had to admit defeat less than a week before the scheduled debate. He has been unable to meet the polling and electoral requirements he needed to be on stage with Biden and Trump by the June 19 deadline. Despite his best efforts, Kennedy has only been able to secure ballot access in six states, earning only 89 electoral votes. Only three qualifying polls have placed him at or above 15%. 

Last month, after the debate and its requirements for participation were announced, Kennedy filed an election complaint accusing CNN of collusion with the Biden and Trump campaigns. According to the complaint, the participation requirements were structured to keep him off the stage. Additionally, Lorenzo Holloway, a lawyer representing Kennedy, wrote a letter to the Federal Election Commission alleging that CNN was making illegal corporate contributions to both the Biden and Trump campaigns and that these contributions had been accepted by their respective committees. 

Karoline Leavitt, national press secretary for the Trump campaign, issued a statement reminding voters that Trump has no problem with debating Kennedy and that the former President thinks anyone who meets the qualifications should be allowed to be heard. She went on to add, “It’s Joe Biden and the Democrats who are using financial and legal resources to prevent RFK’s access to the ballot because they know RFK Jr. is a radical leftist who pulls more votes from Biden than President Trump.” 

Kennedy has used his exclusion from the debate stage to argue that the election is unfairly biased against political outsiders. His campaign has already scheduled $100,000 worth of TV advertisements on the day of the debate. 

On Thursday, as the news of his failure to qualify for the debate made its rounds, Kennedy held nothing back in his scathing criticism of Trump, Biden, and CNN, calling the Democratic and Republican nominees un-American, undemocratic, and cowardly. He further suggested that the liberal media outlet “illegally” caved to demands from both parties to exclude him. 

While not appearing in June’s presidential debate was a blow to Kennedy’s campaign, he still has time to qualify for the next one, hosted in September on ABC. After a summer full of Trump and Biden, Kennedy may provide a fall distraction for an already election-weary America.