RFK Jr claims Republicans, Democrats and CNN conspired to exclude him from debate

Robert F Kennedy Jr, the independent US presidential candidate polling at about 8%, won’t be at tonight’s Biden-Trump TV smackdown in Atlanta. But he’s not taking the diss quietly, and has accused debate host CNN of colluding with the major party campaigns to exclude him.

In an email statement on Wednesday, the Kennedy campaign claimed that 71% of Americans want to see him on the debate stage, and in an act of counter-programming he plans an alternative “real” debate on Elon’s Musk’s Twitter/X platform at the same time.

“The American people want leaders who trust them to make up their own minds,” Kennedy said. “Instead, our last two presidents are restricting voters from choosing anyone other than themselves. Presidents Biden and Trump have sucked trillions of dollars from the pockets of working people and Americans deserve to hear from the one candidate who can hold them to account.”

Kennedy’s anger and frustration at what he describes as his exclusion despite six qualifying polls and confirmed ballot access in five states – with Democratic legal challenges to his inclusion in five more, including one in New Jersey under the state’s “sore loser law” – comes as Democrats accuse him of being a political stooge for Republicans.

“RFK Jr was recruited to run by Maga Republicans, is being propped up by Trump’s largest donor, and his own campaign staff has said their goal is to hurt President Biden,” Matt Corridoni, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, told CBS News.

Corridoni said Kennedy had “no real grassroots support, no pathway to 270 electoral votes, and his campaign is resorting to a pattern of deception and shortcuts to circumvent state rules for independent candidate ballot access”.

Biden supporters worry Kennedy’s famous name and his history of environmental advocacy could sway voters from the left. His family members are largely against his candidacy, which they have made clear in public statements and by visiting the Biden White House en masse on St Patrick’s Day in March.

Related: Robert F Kennedy Jr fails to meet requirements to take part in CNN debate

But Republicans also have not welcomed his quixotic intervention in a tight race that could serve to siphon off vital votes from both candidates. Donald Trump has described him as “far more LIBERAL than anyone running as a Democrat, including West and Stein,” referring to third-party candidates Cornel West and Jill Stein.

But Kennedy, who filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in April claiming the Biden and Trump campaigns and CNN violated federal campaign laws in scheduling the debate, has predicted Trump will win the 90-minute debate, telling Piers Morgan this week that the ex-president could in fact “win a prize for the greatest debater in modern American history, probably since Lincoln-Douglas”.

Many of Kennedy’s supporters come from among the “double-haters” – polls show that about one in four voters don’t like either Biden or Trump – including a growing percentage of US adults who identify as independents, from both sides of the political spectrum, and from what has been described as “wellness world elites” attracted to conspiracy-minded views on health and medicine, and environmentalists.

Christy Jones, 54, a holistic health and mindfulness coach from Glendora, California, told the Associated Press that she worries people won’t know Kennedy is running if he’s not on the debate stage.

“He could still win if people choose to be courageous,” she said. “If all the people that actually want change voted for him he would be in. People are asking for change.”

Sujat Desai, a 20-year-old student from California, told the AP that Kennedy’s absence from the debate is a major hurdle for him to overcome. “I think it’s a pretty lethal blow not to be in this debate, and it would be detrimental not to be in the next.”

On Thursday, TV doctor Dr Phil released a preview of an interview with Kennedy also scheduled to be broadcast tonight in which Kennedy said he’d invited Biden to co-fund a poll in October “and whoever is least likely to beat Donald Trump will withdraw”.

But this surge of debate-surrounding publicity may only serve to obscure another reality that Kennedy, after months of campaigning and fundraising, is approaching a lull in events, and he lacks money for a television commercials while he fights for ballot access.

A Kennedy campaign spokesperson said the candidate “has a full schedule for July with many public events, mostly on the east coast and including one big rally” that would be announced next week.

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