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Kennedy Fails to Qualify for CNN Debate
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By The New York Times
Published 4 weeks ago on
June 20, 2024

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an independent candidate for president, at a campaign event in Aurora, Colo., May 19, 2024. Kennedy failed to qualify for the CNN presidential debate on June 27 by the network’s deadline on Thursday, June 19, 2024, a significant blow to his independent presidential bid that will deny him a coveted national stage alongside President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. (Rachel Woolf/The New York Times)

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. failed to qualify for the CNN presidential debate on June 27 by the network’s Thursday deadline, according to the outlet, a significant blow to his independent presidential bid that will deny him a coveted national stage alongside President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Qualifying Would Have Been a Prize for Kennedy

Qualifying for the CNN debate, one of two presidential debates scheduled before Election Day, would have been a plum prize for the Kennedy campaign. More than 73 million people watched the first debate between Biden and Trump in 2020, and Kennedy would have had the opportunity to confront his opponents in front of an extensive national audience.

No third-party or independent presidential candidate has been on the national debate stage since 1992, when Texas billionaire Ross Perot’s self-funded campaign gained enough momentum to earn him a spot alongside President George Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in three debates in the final weeks before the election.

But Kennedy failed to meet two criteria. In the face of mounting challenges before the deadline, Kennedy had accused CNN of colluding with the Biden and Trump campaigns to exclude him from the debate, and he filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission accusing the network of violating campaign finance law.

CNN has denied those accusations. Biden and Trump have a mutual interest in keeping Kennedy off the debate stage, as he is drawing support away from both candidates — and both campaigns are concerned about the potential for him to swing the election in key battleground states.

Kennedy Needed at Least 15% in Four National Polls

To qualify, Kennedy needed to earn at least 15% support in four approved national polls. By Thursday, however, he had only three such polls — one from CNN, one from Quinnipiac University and one from Marquette University Law School.

Kennedy also needed to be officially on the ballot in enough states that he could win 270 votes in the Electoral College — the threshold for winning the presidency. As of Thursday, Kennedy had less than a third of that number, according to an analysis by The New York Times. He is officially on the ballot in six states — California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma and Utah — totaling 89 Electoral College votes.

The ballot access requirement was significantly more onerous for an independent presidential candidate than the polling requirement.

Kennedy needed just one qualifying poll in the last month before the deadline to meet the polling requirement, though his standing in the polls has stalled in recent weeks.

In contrast, Kennedy’s ballot access operation had filed petitions to get on the ballot in more than a dozen other states — collecting tens of thousands of signatures from registered voters in the process — as groups aligned with Biden have targeted the petitions with legal challenges.

The Kennedy campaign had asserted that many of those state ballot petitions would be approved by the June 20 deadline. But by Thursday, the campaign was still no closer to reaching the 270 vote threshold. CNN has previously said that “the mere application for ballot access” does not count as being on the ballot in that state.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Chris Cameron/Rachel Woolf
c.2024 The New York Times Company
Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group

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