Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. races against time to get on the ballot in Texas

Texas is one of the toughest states for an independent presidential candidate to get on the ballot. RFK, Jr. may just make the cut.

By Andrew Schneider, Houston Public MediaMay 1, 2024 10:10 am, ,

From Houston Public Media:

Before Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. can participate in the presidential race this year, he’s in another race – one to get on the ballot in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The bar an independent presidential candidate has to clear in Texas is particularly high, but Kennedy appears to be on a path to clear it – if he can fight off the all-but-inevitable court challenges over the legitimacy of the signatures from one or both of the two major parties.

On a sunny late afternoon at Candy Cane Park in Conroe, north of Houston, a Kennedy for President campaign worker took down signatures for a petition to get RFK, Jr. on the ballot. Gene and Aidan Harvey, a father and son from The Woodlands, were among the first to fill in their information.

Aiden said this November will be only his second time voting for president. “(In) 2020, I voted for (Donald) Trump,” he said. “But I feel much more strongly about Kennedy, or RFK, and I think he just represents my interests a lot more. And I do like his stances on the government and the party systems and all that. I just feel like we’re too restricted right now.”

His father, Gene, who immigrated to Texas from Calgary, Canada, said he’s largely avoided voting until now.

“I have been of the opinion that the best movement people can make if they don’t like the political process is to not vote,” Gene Harvey said. “And I know that sort of goes against being part of a free country, but it’s also a freedom you have. I imagine if no one voted, what would happen? That would be the strongest message to the government that they’re not doing their job.”

But this time, the elder Harvey is supporting Kennedy. “I like transparency,” he said. “I think Trump tried to do that. But I think this guy’s a little bit more toned down. I think he’s a true middle-ground option.”

Not long after, Angela Balboa of Willis also signed the Kennedy petition. She said she didn’t vote for president in 2016, that she didn’t like either leading candidate but was convinced Trump would lose anyway. She felt differently in 2020.

“I couldn’t fathom having a leader that we had like that for another four years,” Balboa said. “And honestly, I didn’t feel like, you know, the Democratic Party was that much better, but I just felt really strongly that I did not want to be a part of allowing that to happen for another four years.

But after four years of Joe Biden as president, she’d changed her mind again.

“I just feel really disgusted and not motivated about our current political system and candidates. The last two elections felt like two undesirable options, neither of which are really working for people,” Balboa said.

That seems to be the main reason an independent candidate like Kennedy is gathering steam – that disengaged voters who find both President Joe Biden and former President Trump unappealing want another option.

“I’ve talked to so many people, other Kennedy supporters, who say, I never voted until now. I am getting registered to vote just so I can vote for this man,” said Kennedy supporter Juniper Jairala, a Chicago native and NASA engineer. “And that really inspires me that really gives me hope for change in this country.”

Starting March 6, the Kennedy team has been rushing to gather signatures from people who didn’t vote in the primaries. They have until May 13 to get 113,151 signatures to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

“But if they want to be safe, they want to get 200,000,” said Mark Jones, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, “because it’s very likely that the Texas Democrats are going to try to challenge every one of those signatures and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

Jones recently ran a poll for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. He found that, in a multicandidate race for president, Kennedy polled 10%, drawing equally from Trump and Biden. Jones said Republicans may also want to challenge Kennedy’s signatures, though for a different reason.

“I think the Republican who would want to keep RFK, Jr. off the ballot is Ted Cruz,” Jones said, “because one other thing our poll did show is that close to half of the Kennedy voters will vote for Colin Allred in the Senate race, compared to only about a quarter of those voters who would vote for Cruz.”

Petition drives are expensive, but meeting that expense shouldn’t be a problem for Kennedy, thanks to his nomination of wealthy attorney and tech entrepreneur Nicole Shanahan as his running mate.

“With Shanahan on board as the VP candidate,” Jones said, “she can spend an unlimited amount of her own personal money on the campaign, as opposed to the campaign being limited by FEC rules to the relatively small contributions that any one individual can give unless to the candidate. So, Shanahan’s wealth should allow the Kennedy campaign to get on the ballot in most of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

Still, the fact that a Kennedy needs to turn to an outside source for money points up what may be his campaign’s biggest weakness: the fact that much of his immediate family has endorsed the Democratic incumbent, President Biden, for reelection.

AP Photo / Eric Risberg

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. right, waves on stage with Nicole Shanahan, after announcing her as his running mate, during a campaign event, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, Calif.

“(Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s) strength seems mostly to be having a cool last name, something that connects him to the Kennedy legacy,” said Bernard Tamas, associate professor of political science at Valdosta State University and the author of The Demise and Rebirth of American Third Parties. “So, therefore, the Biden campaign is really doing strategically the right thing to undercut his legitimacy as an heir to the Kennedy throne. And so, I suspect that this is an important development.”

That cuts Kennedy off from much of his own family’s wealth, but more importantly, from the Rolodex of supporters who might otherwise support someone with his name. Tamas said that makes it all the more important that Kennedy find a clear focus to appeal to voters as an alternative to Biden and Trump. As a contrast, Tamas pointed to one of the more successful independent presidential candidacies in recent memory, that of Ross Perot in 1992.

“If somebody wants to run as a third-party presidential candidate, they should study Ross Perot very carefully, because Ross Perot really knew what he was doing,” Tamas said. “It was a very well-developed strategy. And he tapped into the frustrations at the time, and he produced this theme that other candidates weren’t pushing at the time, which I would refer to as kind of a reform populism, an anti-Washington, pro-populist change.”

Perot won more than 19 million votes in that contest, and the Republican Party took notice, adapting much of his approach to elections in the years that followed.

“RFK doesn’t have anything resembling a strategy like this,” Tamas said. “RFK seems to be picking issues that maybe are consistent with things he said before, but don’t seem to be really focusing on tapping into whatever it is that are frustrating Americans right now. If somebody is an anti-vaxxer, this is not a new discussion. The anti-vaxxers are probably going to vote for Donald Trump. He is definitely presenting things in terms of climate change. Well, Biden is already dealing with climate change issues. The Greens are dealing with it. Cornel West is dealing with it. There’s nothing new about it. Simply mashing them together doesn’t work.”

Still, Kennedy doesn’t have to win to have an impact on the election, just draw enough votes from one of the leading candidates in a few swing states, like Arizona, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. Tamas said it’s happened before, most recently in Florida in 2000.

“I don’t think George W. Bush would have won the presidency if it had not been for Ralph Nader running in Florida, primarily because the Florida race was so close,” Tamas said. “The difference between Bush and Gore was 500 votes, and Nader had pulled in a few thousand.”

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and Thanks for donating today.