Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has made multiple stops in South Carolina since announcing his candidacy in April to challenge President Joe Biden for the Democratic Party nomination. Mr. Kennedy was back in South Carolina on Nov. 14, this time as an independent candidate with the purpose of collecting signatures to get on the state’s presidential election ballot.
“We’re building an army. And, you know, we’re going to get on the ballot,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“We’re going to use volunteers to get on the ballot. And then we’re going to have an army in place in November, like no other campaign.”
In Philadelphia on Oct. 9, Mr. Kennedy stood in front of the National Constitution Center within view of Independence Hall, where the first and only independent candidate to win the U.S. presidency, George Washington, helped establish the new country’s government.
On that day, he told supporters that he believes that he'll take a similar path to the White House.
“There have been independent candidates before. But this time is different,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“This time, the independent is going to win.”
The campaign stops he called “town halls” and “meet and greets” as a Democratic candidate are now billed as “voter rallies” at which he delivers his independent campaign platform, answers questions, poses for selfies, and encourages attendees to sign petitions to get him on the ballot.
The challenge of getting on the ballot in every state and in Washington D.C. is grueling, time-consuming, and expensive.
Mr. Kennedy estimated that it'll take “around $15 million” to accomplish the task of accumulating enough nominating petitions to secure a place on the ballot. He has raised more than $15 million dollars since his campaign began. Federal Election Commission campaign filing information shows that he entered October with $6.1 million in cash on hand.
No Labels, an organization focusing on getting centrist candidates elected, said it'll be on the ballot in 28 states by the end of 2023 and intends to be on the ballot in all 50 states in time for the presidential election filing deadlines. The organization has yet to announce a candidate for its ticket.
Guidelines for securing a ballot spot differ in many states, as do deadlines. North Carolina and Texas, for example, require independent candidates to file by mid-May. Multiple states have summer deadlines.
Mr. Kennedy must gather about 200,000 signatures in California, about 145,000 in Florida, and more than 110,000 in Texas, according to the rules in those states. Tennessee requires only 275 signatures.
In Indiana, state law requires that independent presidential candidates gather ballot petition signatures from registered voters equal to 2 percent of the votes tabulated in the most recent secretary of state election. According to state records, 1,846,979 voters participated in the 2022 secretary of state election. That means Mr. Kennedy must record a minimum of 36,937 valid signatures to submit for approval to be on Indiana’s 2024 general election ballot.
Legal challenges from Democrats and Republicans intent on keeping Mr. Kennedy off the ballot are possible. There are processes to challenge signatures after they’ve been submitted to election offices in multiple states.
Some states have varying guidelines about the number of signees in different parts of their state.
More than half of the states mandate that a candidate declare his or her pick for vice president.
“We have a robust ballot-access team, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s name will be on the ballot in all 50 states,” Mr. Kennedy’s communications director, Stefanie Spear, said in a statement.
In Columbia on Nov. 14, Mr. Kennedy reiterated that his name will appear on the ballot in all 50 states and in Washington D.C.
“We have to tackle a massive challenge to get on the ballot. That means collecting millions of signatures. That is a cost the two parties don’t have since they are automatically on the ballot,” he said in a video statement encouraging individual donations that will be used for the signature-gathering initiative.
“I am thrilled to meet the challenge because it’s an opportunity to demonstrate people power in action.”
Recent polls show Mr. Kennedy gaining momentum, especially among voters younger than 45.
The same poll shows Mr. Kennedy leading President Biden and President Trump among voters younger than the age of 45 in those six states.
Mr. Kennedy registered 34 percent support from voters aged 18 to 29 compared with 30 percent for President Biden and 29 percent for President Trump. Among voters aged 30 to 44, Mr. Kennedy led with 31 percent, while President Biden and President Trump collected 30 percent each.
Mr. Kennedy was the leading candidate for respondents between the ages of 18 and 36 at 38 percent, compared with 32 percent each for President Biden and President Trump.
Overall, the poll indicates that in a three-way race, President Biden would garner 39 percent, President Trump 36 percent, and Mr. Kennedy 22 percent.
Millennials will be crucial to Mr. Kennedy’s White House bid, he told the Columbia crowd, noting the number of “young people” in the audience.
“People have asked me, ‘Why do you think you’re doing so well with young people?’ And the reason for that, to me, is obvious. I’m the only one who’s talking about what’s happening to young people in this country,” he said before detailing multiple ideas to help “young people” battle chronic disease and improve financial stability.
Mr. Kennedy said he believes that once people hear his platform firsthand instead of what’s reported by the mainstream media, they'll sign the nominating petitions and cast their votes for him.
“Honestly, I don’t think my children have watched an evening news broadcast, and they’re very well informed. They get their information from what we used to call unconventional sources. They get it from listening to podcasts, and they get it from social media and reading a lot of alternative media,” he said.
“That’s why I’m doing so well in those groups. Independents who are critical thinkers do the same thing because they’re looking at unconventional sources of information. If the only source of information that you have is MSNBC, CNN, and The New York Times, I would have a very low opinion of myself, too, because you’re not going to hear anything good about me. You’re going to hear a lot of defamation, a lot of things that just aren’t true.
“What we find is that when we can convince those people to watch podcasts and those long-form interviews, that they have very high and very quick conversion rates. People say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t have horns, and he actually sounds like he has common sense.’”
Mr. Kennedy’s independent bid is being compared to Ross Perot’s candidacy in 1992, when the Texas businessman appeared on every state’s ballot with help from a well-organized “Draft Perot” movement.
George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who had widespread support in southern states, is the most recent independent or third-party candidate to capture electoral votes in a presidential race. In 1968, Mr. Wallace won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
During his Oct. 9 announcement, Mr. Kennedy also addressed speculation that his independent candidacy would “draw votes from the other candidates.”
“The Democrats are frightened that I’m going to spoil the election for President Biden, and the Republicans are frightened that I’m going to spoil it for President Trump. The truth is, they’re both right,” Mr. Kennedy said to rousing applause.
At the Columbia voter rally on Nov. 14, Mr. Kennedy was asked what he thought about the possibility that his candidacy would lead to another term for President Biden or result in a return of President Donald Trump to the White House.
“I intend to spoil the race for both of them. I intend to win,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“We’re building a movement. We have momentum. I’m in better shape than any independent for 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt. I am in very, very good shape to win this election.”
Dozens of people at Mr. Kennedy’s campaign stops have told The Epoch Times that they voted for President Trump in 2016 and 2020 but have shifted their allegiance to Mr. Kennedy.
The Democratic National Committee voted to give its full support to President Biden earlier this year and removed New Hampshire and Iowa from the leadoff primary and caucus, replacing those states with South Carolina.
President Biden lost the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus in 2020 but won in South Carolina.
Michael Grant White, who lives in North Carolina near the South Carolina border, was among the attendees of the Columbia rally who posed for a photo with Mr. Kennedy after the event.
A holistic health professional who helps patients with breathing problems, Mr. White told The Epoch Times that he’s “embarrassed” that he voted for President Biden in 2020 and believes that more Democrats will support Mr. Kennedy in the upcoming months.
“I used to be a Democrat, but they’ve gone crazy. Voting for Biden was a mistake. And Trump is a loose cannon,” Mr. White said. “We need a leader who is balanced, and [Mr. Kennedy] gives us that.
“He doesn’t make statements he can’t back up. He has a track record of taking on corporations and government agencies that are corrupt and winning lawsuits against them.”
Mr. White said he'll volunteer to help Mr. Kennedy’s signature-gathering initiative in North Carolina and South Carolina.
“It’s important that he is on the ballot in every state so people have another choice than Biden and Trump,“ Mr. White said. ”And it’s important that he get out in front of people so they can hear what he believes in instead of just listening to what the mainstream media says about him.”