Robert F. Kennedy Jr. picks Nicole Shanahan as his running mate for his independent White House bid

Nicole Shanahan waves from the podium during a campaign event for Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, Calif. Shanahan has been picked as Kennedy Jr.'s running mate. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. chose Nicole Shanahan on Tuesday to be his vice presidential pick as he mounts an independent White House bid that has spooked national Democrats.

Shanahan, 38, is a California lawyer and philanthropist who’s never held elected office. Shanahan leads Bia-Echo Foundation, an organization she founded to direct money toward issues including women’s reproductive science, criminal justice reform and environmental causes.

Kennedy, a former Democrat, made the announcement in Oakland, California.

“Nicole and I both left the Democratic Party,” he said. “Our values didn’t change. The Democratic Party did.”

Without the backing of a party, Kennedy faces an arduous task to get on the ballot, with varying rules across the 50 states. He’s picking a running mate now because about half of the states require him to designate one before he can apply for ballot access.

In advance of an event Tuesday in Oakland, Kennedy and his aides circulated the names of several contenders, including celebrities with no experience in politics.

Two hours before Kennedy’s rally was scheduled to begin at a performing arts venue, a handful of supporters were lined up outside. Broken-down cars, discarded bicycles, tents and all manner of household goods took up the sidewalk and a park directly outside, a visual reminder of the housing crisis that has plagued California.

Dozens of men in black suits made up a heavy security presence for a candidate who has loudly complained that he has not been granted protection from the U.S. Secret Service. Kennedy’s campaign has spent millions of dollars with the security company owned by Gavin de Becker, who has been a major donor to his campaign and associated super PAC.

Supporters of Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gather during a campaign event, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Sarah Morris, a Kennedy supporter from Olympia, Washington, who flew to Oakland for the rally, said Kennedy should pick somebody who would “complement him well and balance him out.”

“It would be nice to see a VP who leans a little more right than he does,” said the 47-year-old real estate agent. “I just hope he picks a good partner. I hope he doesn’t pick somebody that’s polarizing.”

A list of speakers includes Angela Stanton-King, a woman pardoned by then-President Donald Trump for her role in a car theft ring that led to a 2004 federal conspiracy conviction and two years in prison; Metta World Peace, the NBA all-star player formerly known as Ron Artest; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford Medical School professor who questioned the efficacy of lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential launch event last year.

Kennedy’s campaign has spooked Democrats, who are fighting third-party options that could draw support from President Joe Biden and help Trump. As they head into a 2020 rematch, Biden and Trump are broadly unpopular with the U.S. public and will compete for the votes of people who aren’t enthusiastic about either of them.

Without the backing of a party, Kennedy faces an arduous task to get on the ballot, with varying rules across the 50 states. He’s picking a running mate now because about half of the states require him to designate one before he can apply for ballot access.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. right, is joined on the stage by his wife Cheryl Hines during a campaign event, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The requirement is already bedeviling Kennedy’s ballot access effort in Nevada, where Democratic Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar said in a March 7 letter to independent candidates that they must nominate a vice presidential candidate before collecting signatures. The letter came days after Kennedy’s campaign announced he’d collected enough signatures in the state. If Aguilar’s opinion survives a likely legal challenge, Kennedy will have to start again in collecting just over 10,000 signatures in the state.

“This is the epitome of corruption,” said Paul Rossi, a Kennedy campaign lawyer, in a statement Monday, accusing Aguilar of doing the bidding of the Democratic National Committee.

Kennedy has secured access to the ballot in Utah. He and an allied super PAC, American Values 2024, say they’ve collected enough signatures to qualify in several other states, including swing states Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, but election officials there have not yet signed off.

Kennedy is a descendant of a storied Democratic family that includes his father, Robert F. Kennedy, who was a U.S. senator, attorney general and presidential candidate, and his uncle former President John F. Kennedy.

He began his campaign as a primary challenge to Biden but last fall said he’d run as an independent instead.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., right, stands on the stage before a campaign event where he is expected to announce a running mate, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Kennedy was a teenager when his father, known as RFK, was assassinated during his own presidential campaign in 1968. RFK Jr. built a reputation of his own as an activist, author and lawyer who fought for environmental causes such as clean water.

Along the way, his activism has veered into conspiracies and contradicted scientific consensus, most infamously on vaccines. Some members of his family have publicly criticized his views. Dozens of Kennedy family members sent a message when they posed with Biden at a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House in a photo his sister Kerry Kennedy posted to social media.

An anti-vaccine group Kennedy led has a lawsuit pending against a number of news organizations, among them The Associated Press, accusing them of violating antitrust laws by taking action to identify misinformation, including about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines. Kennedy took leave from the group when he announced his run for president but is listed as one of its attorneys in the lawsuit.

RFK Jr. is leveraging a network of loyal supporters he’s built over years, many of them drawn to his anti-vaccine activism and his message that the U.S. government is beholden to corporations.

The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, is gearing up to take on Kennedy and other third-party options, including No Labels, a well-funded group working to recruit a centrist ticket. The effort is overseen by veteran strategist Mary Beth Cahill, whose resume includes chief of staff to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, another of RFK Jr.’s uncles.

Many Democrats blame Green Party candidates for Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000 and Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016.