Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Monday that he was switching from a Democrat to an independent as he looks to give new momentum to his long-shot White House bid.
“I’m here to declare myself an independent candidate,” Kennedy told a crowd of supporters in Philadelphia.
“I must declare my own independence. Independence from the Democratic Party,” he said to loud cheers. “And from all other political parties.”
A lawyer and proud vaccine skeptic, Kennedy has formally rivaled President Biden from within the party since the spring, but he has not made a dent against the White House incumbent.
With just more than a year until Election Day, running as an independent positions him to challenge Biden and former President Trump, the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, while leaning on his anti-establishment platform and bypassing both parties’ primary rules.
The 69-year-old candidate has run what’s looked like an outsider campaign for months, freely introducing conspiracy theories that mainstream Democrats and some traditional Republicans disavow, especially around vaccines, aspects of American political history, and the neutrality of the current presidential primary process.
His switch theoretically puts him closer to voters who are unhappy with both political parties, hyper-partisan politics, and want an alternative to the expected Biden-Trump options next November.
“People suspect that the divisions are deliberately orchestrated,” he said. “They’re fed up with being fooled and they’re ready to take back power.”
While Kennedy hails from a well-known liberal family, he’s distanced himself from that brand, attracting considerably more praise and funding from conservatives than those typically aligned with Democrats.
Kennedy has been a frequent critic of the Democratic National Committee and has regularly lamented its decision not to hold debates with Biden as the presumptive nominee, throwing around claims that the party is “rigging” things in the president’s favor.
As that discontentment grew, his campaign floated a potential party change leading up to the Pennsylvania event, but he had declined to say officially whether he would become an independent. Democrats have started to express concerns that his campaign could be helpful to Trump if he convinces enough swing voters to back him over Biden, without winning on his own. And now, Republicans, too, have started to wonder the same thing, fearful that he could take enough votes away from Trump to help Biden in the fall.
The news of Kennedy’s party change follows another candidate, progressive professor Cornel West, who said last week that he is now running as an independent. West was running with the Green Party, ideologically to the left of Kennedy, but has also raised similar concerns about what his bid could do to Biden’s prospects if matched against Trump.
Some polling shows there’s more of an interest in Kennedy than other independent or third-party names this cycle, earning double digit support. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll placed Kennedy with 14 percent of support among likely voters, a sizable portion compared to Trump’s 40 percent and Biden’s 38 percent.
“People like yourselves are finally fed up. Something is stirring in us that says it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Kennedy sees an opportunity amid Biden’s lack of popularity and Trump’s multiple indictments. Biden’s polling has consistently shown him in poor standing with voters, and Trump’s legal problems make him a shaky front-runner for the GOP.
Kennedy mentioned he is freeing himself from “taking sides,” a principle that has guided his insurgent campaign. Outside of the two-party system, he said, there’s a new path to victory.
“This time, the independent is going to win,” he said.