Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign is in the hot seat after a seven-figure Super Bowl ad angered his family and focused new public attention on his independent candidacy.
The $7 million television spend by American Values, the main Super PAC supporting his candidacy, sought to evoke his Democratic family’s imprint on politics, with music and images strikingly similar to the 1960 campaign of the Former President Kennedy – his late uncle.
The surprise angered prominent members of his family, drew criticism from political experts and cast further scrutiny on the actions of the Super PAC, which is facing a complaint from the Democratic National Committee alleging illegal coordination with its campaign.
“This RFK Jr. Super Bowl ad was criticized for hijacking his uncle’s 1960 campaign,” wrote Frank Luntz, a veteran strategist, on X, formerly known as Twitter. “He should actually be blamed for not saying anything. And at the cost of millions of dollars, it also defrauds political donors.”
In a sign of the turmoil caused by the ad Sunday evening, Kennedy later apologized to members of his family who had been offended by it.
“I am truly sorry if the Super Bowl commercial caused any member of my family pain,” Kennedy said.
The segment was immediately criticized by Bobby Shriver, his cousin, who said it used the face of his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former President Kennedy.
“She would be appalled by his deadly views on health care,” Shriver wrote on X. “Respect for science, vaccines and health care equity was in her DNA.”
As concerns grow that Kennedy’s candidacy could help former President Trump, other members of his family have spoken out in favor of President Biden’s re-election and sharply criticized many of the views held by him. Kennedy’s most controversial stories, including his anti-vax theories.
Despite its purported political focus, the Sunday ad did not highlight Kennedy’s policy positions. Critics on both sides have accused him of running a presidential campaign based largely on his name recognition and becoming an independent only because he couldn’t beat Biden in the Democratic primary.
The ad also renewed discussions about his super PAC, which has sparked allegations of violating campaign finance law. Seeking to allay those concerns, Kennedy, 70, sought to distance himself from the publicity in his statement.
“The ad was created and distributed by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or endorsement from my campaign. FEC rules prohibit Super PACs from consulting me or my staff,” Kennedy wrote. “I love you all. God bless you.”
Yet despite his apology, Kennedy left the 30-second ad pinned to the top of his X feed, which — according to public analytics — was seen by nearly 3 million people on the social media platform as of Monday morning.
“Our momentum is growing,” Kennedy wrote in a statement accompanying the clip. “It is time for an independent president to bridge the divisions in our country.”
Kennedy, who has hovered around double digits in the polls for much of the 2024 election, has irked Democrats who see him as a possible spoiler for Biden. Some Republicans also fear he could take votes away from Trump.
But the candidate wonders if he will appear on enough ballots to really make a difference. Kennedy is overseeing an ongoing ballot access effort across the country, including in battleground states where, if successful, he could end up tilting the results of the November election.
Many Democrats are skeptical that his signature attempts will be effective, but the expansive nature of it has caught the attention of the DNC, which says it is working alongside the American Values PAC to support this effort. If proven, it would be illegal – something the Kennedy campaign vehemently denies.
“The Robert F. Kennedy Jr. campaign is flouting campaign finance law by outsourcing a crucial campaign function – collecting the signatures required to appear on the ballot – to an outside, principally funded Super PAC. donor to Donald Trump this cycle,” DNC senior adviser Mary Beth Cahill said in a statement regarding the complaint.
“This project between American Values 2024 and the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. campaign requires significant – and clearly illegal – coordination to the tune of a $15 million in-kind contribution,” she said. “This blatant disregard for federal law undermines the integrity of our democracy and electoral process, and the FEC must act decisively to stop this disturbing scheme.” »
Kennedy’s campaign called the DNC’s complaint a “non-issue” and part of their effort to unseat the insurgent candidate ahead of the fall general election.
“This is a non-issue raised by a partisan political entity that appears increasingly concerned about its own candidate and his viability,” said Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, campaign manager for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., at The Hill on Monday.
“To my knowledge, we have not yet received any signatures from American Values PAC or any other PAC, nor have we provided any information that is not available to all volunteers and media on our website public,” Fox Kennedy said. “I am aware that they have their own signature collection tracker on their public website, but we take our FEC obligation seriously and are not allowed to tell PACs what they should and should not do with their money.”
Those who have been following Kennedy’s movements see an uptick in his activity as the ballot access campaign continues through the cycle. He also discussed the possibility of campaigning for the Libertarian Party. This decision must be made as soon as possible if he is to retain popular support.
“I think Kennedy needs to figure out whether he’s actually running as an independent or whether he’ll seek the Libertarian nomination first,” said election analyst Kyle Kondik.
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