BOSTON — Despite the odds stacked against Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s run at the White House, his campaign isn’t so novel or fringe that President Joe Biden should swiftly dismiss the scion of the powerful political family and likely victor of the first Democratic primary contest, experts tell the Boston Herald.

RFK Jr., as he is popularly called, the son of the former attorney general and New York Sen. Robert Kennedy, announced he would follow in his father’s footsteps and seek the presidency in April, effectively answering the question of whether Biden would sail into the general election absent the weight of responding to his record throughout a primary contest.

“If you are Joe Biden, this is the last thing you wanted,” Ken Cosgrove, a professor of political science and legal studies at Suffolk University, told the Herald. “He’s sort of a hybrid of Bernie Sanders and Trump.”

“I think he’s identified a market space that certainly exists. People don’t necessarily want socialism, on the other hand they want to feel like their interests are represented, and it’s just not a good time in the country to be associated with any kind of establishment,” Cosgrove said.

According to polling aggregator RealClearPolitics, Kennedy is currently averaging about 50 points behind in the primary, inching toward 15% support against Biden’s 64% average. Author Marianne Williamson, who also ran in 2020, is polling at under 6%.

The nephew of former President John F. Kennedy has found a home among a liberal voting base unsure of their government or large institutions after the COVID-19 pandemic and related mask mandates and vaccine rollouts, Cosgrove explained. Despite his well-heeled background, Kennedy speaks to an anti-establishment wing of his party that has only grown as the result of their regard for the sitting Democratic president.


“Much like Trump,” Cosgrove said.

Taking on an unpopular presidential incumbent from inside the Democratic Party isn’t even new for a member of the Kennedy family.

RFK Jr.’s uncle, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, launched a campaign against then President Jimmy Carter ahead the 1980 presidential contest after polling showed he might be able to beat the unpopular president. He went on to win 12 states and more than 37% of the popular vote.

Dante Scala, a professor of political science and expert on the presidential primary at the University of New Hampshire, said there is some similarity between the contests, but that “the differences outweigh the parallels.”

The largest difference is the Kennedys: RFK Jr. is not his uncle.

“Kennedy, even post-Chappaquiddick, was still seen as a legitimate candidate in a way that RFK Jr. is not,” Scala said.


According to Scala, people had floated Sen. Kennedy’s name as a potential presidential candidate for a decade after his brothers were assassinated, and when he eventually launched a campaign it was taken seriously despite the fact that it was never “firing on all cylinders.”

“He was still a prominent, sitting U.S. senator,” Scala said.

Sen. Kennedy was a party insider, Scala said, while RFK Jr. does not have the support of his party. Nor does the Kennedy name hold the sway among a younger electorate that it did with older generations.

“It’s tough to say what RFK Jr. really represents within the Democratic Party,” he said.

Despite their differences, chances are good RFK Jr. does what his uncle didn’t and wins the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, putting pressure on the incumbent.

“I don’t think Joe Biden is going to put his name on the New Hampshire primary ballot,” Scala said. “I think RFK stands a good chance of winning the New Hampshire Democratic primary. You could argue about whether that means Biden lost — does that mean he loses if he doesn’t play — it means that RFK stands a decent chance of gaining some momentum.”


The Democratic National Committee has attempted to change which state holds the first primary, but New Hampshire hasn’t been able to comply with the reordering due to a state law requiring it to vote first. Biden’s team has threatened to ignore New Hampshire altogether — and Iowa, where the first caucusing usually occurs — if they don’t let the DNC’s choice of states vote first.

“I think the only reason he would be a real threat to Joe Biden is the bungling of Joe Biden’s people with New Hampshire,” Cosgrove said.

Kennedy could also see a serious boost to his campaign if former President Donald Trump is too engaged with legal concerns to run a campaign. Without Trump as the potential nominee to run against, Biden’s primary message — that he can beat the 45th President — loses value.

“I think this can become quite damaging if this goes on too long,” Cosgrove said.

Kennedy’s campaign and the New Hampshire Democratic Party did not return requests for comment.

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