RFK Jr Still Sees Path to First Presidential Debate

Created: 27 May, 2024
Updated: 30 May, 2024
4 min read

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr


Robert F Kennedy Jr’s campaign announced Friday that Kennedy has cleared 3 of 4 polls he needs to be at 15% in order to qualify for CNN’s debate stage on June 27 -- a debate that will solely be sponsored by the cable news network. 

A new Marquette Law School poll shows Kennedy at 17% support nationwide. Kennedy’s campaign said in a press release that he already had two polls where he met the 15% threshold, one from CNN and the other from Quinnipiac.

Both polls showed him at 16% in April. CNN also had Kennedy’s polling average near 15% before the latest polls. 

The first presidential debate will be held on June 27 in Atlanta, Georgia, which sets the record for earliest televised debate in history. The rules that govern it were negotiated between CNN and the Trump and Biden campaigns.

The presumptive major party nominees announced on May 15 that they were ditching the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) in order to assert more control over scheduling and debate rules. 

Both Biden and Trump wanted earlier debates, a greater assurance that a third candidate would not share the stage with them, and were dissatisfied with the way the debate commission handled the 2020 debates.

The move away from the commission may set a new precedent for presidential debates in the future. If media outlets are desperate to have the major party candidates debate (which was the case in 2024), the campaigns don’t need the CPD. They can dictate if, when, and where debates happen.

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CNN was the first network to extend an invite to the Trump and Biden campaigns for a June debate. Both campaigns immediately accepted the invite.

On the same day, CNN released the criteria to make the debate stage. The first stipulation is that candidates have to be on the ballot in enough states to reach 270 electoral votes – the magic number needed to win a presidential election.

The second stipulation is that candidates have to poll at 15% or higher in 4 separate national polls.

The polling requirement is more lenient than the Commission on Presidential Debates’ rule, which requires 15% in 5 national polls handpicked by the commission. CNN’s debate requires 4 polls from 12 qualifying pollsters.

Marquette Law School is on the list of qualifying pollsters, as is CNN (of course) and Quinnipiac.  

The biggest obstacle for Kennedy to make the June debate may not be the polls, but the ballot access stipulation – since the rules for gaining ballot access are not only different for independent candidates, but vary from state to state.

Kennedy’s campaign announced his showing in the Marquette Law School poll on the same day it announced it submitted enough signatures to get him on the ballot in New Jersey and garnered the Reform Party’s nomination, which gives him ballot access in Florida.

“Much gratitude to the Reform Party for its nomination offering me ballot access in Florida,” said Kennedy. 

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“I couldn’t resonate more with the Reform Party’s motto, ‘It’s time to put people first.’ I am grateful to accept the nomination, grow the independent movement, and take our shared principles all the way to the White House.”

To date, Kennedy has qualified for the ballot in 8 states: California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.

His campaign asserts that he has submitted enough signatures to obtain ballot access in 8 additional states, which when combined with the qualified states total 231 electoral votes.

This puts him close, but also includes states that have not certified his ticket for the ballot.

Other variables may factor in as well. For example, the Reform Party officially nominated him, but Florida has not officially certified Kennedy for the ballot. Also, the DNC continues to challenge Kennedy’s ballot access in a number of states. 

These challenges could stall some states from officially putting Kennedy on the ballot, and CNN’s rules specifically state that “a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots.”

It is possible that by Fall, Kennedy will be officially certified on enough states to get to 270 or even all 50 states, but what is going to determine debate eligibility is where things stand by the June 20 deadline to qualify.

Don’t be surprised if CNN uses any technicality it can to keep Kennedy off the stage, even if he meets the polling criteria. Trump and Biden want this to be a one-on-one debate and the timing of the debate may ensure they get what they want.

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