Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is filing papers to join the Pennsylvania presidential race as an independent candidate

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. he filed papers Thursday to run for president in Pennsylvania as a third-party candidate in a race in which front-runners President Joe Biden and Donald Trump are in dire straits.

Although Kennedy has little chance of winning the election, his presence on the ballot in this highly competitive battleground state could be decisive. The question is, said one Pennsylvania political observer, for whom.

“When you look at his data, it’s not always clear who he hurts more,” Berwood Yost, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, told the Capital-Star on Friday.

Kennedy’s candidacy in Pennsylvania is not yet certain, Yost said, noting that his nominating petitions may be challenged to ensure that each signature is that of a registered voter and that the information of those who signed is correct.

“I bet none of the campaigns want him on the ballot, so they’re going to question all these signatures,” Yost said.

Kennedy’s campaign said Friday that it had submitted 9,000 signatures, almost twice the required number for independent candidates, and that volunteers planned to continue submitting signatures.

“We now have a candidate we can vote for who actually cares about us,” said Jon Raso, the campaign’s Northeast regional director. “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will give Pennsylvanians the government accountability they deserve.”

Kennedy is officially on the ballot in eight states, including the battleground state of Michigan, and has collected signatures to access the ballots in 15 others, including North Carolina, also a necessity for the presidency.

Members of the Kennedy family, one of the most prominent figures in American politics, stood with Biden on stage in Philadelphia in April to give the president their full support.

Biden receives support from the Kennedy family in Philadelphia

Neither the Biden nor Trump campaigns responded directly to questions about possible challenges. Both sides worked to link Kennedy to the other’s ideologies, and the Trump campaign issued a statement calling Kennedy a “radical leftist” and “Terrible job for the environment.” The Democratic National Committee highlighted what it called “MAGA connections” through conservative megadonor Timothy Mellon as Kennedy sought to secure access to ballots through right-wing third parties.

Still, Kennedy appeals to some voters, Yost said.

The latest Franklin & Marshall poll, released on June 6, which focused on Pennsylvania’s closely watched 10th Congressional District, showed Biden and Trump neck and neck, with each having 40% of those polled in that district. Kennedy was supported by 13% of those polled.

It’s unclear, Yost said, whether those who vote for Kennedy are taking their votes away from Biden or Trump.

“We know there is a lot of dissatisfaction among voters,” Yost said, noting that the poll showed those who responded believe the biggest issues facing Pennsylvania are the economy, government and politics.

However, in the last two elections, the percentage of votes obtained by independent candidates approached or exceeded the difference between the winner and the loser. In 2020, Biden won 1.17% of the vote and Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen won 1.15%. In 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost by an even smaller margin, three independent candidates combined for over 3.5%.

“I think people realize that historically, a vote for a third party is not going to be a vote for the winner,” Yost said. “But if you really want to vote for someone who reflects your views on an issue, or even if you want to register your protest against the party’s main candidates, this is, I think, a rational choice.”

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