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RFK Jr. says he's running for president as an independent

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Monday in Philadelphia that he will run for president as an independent.
Jessica Kourkounis
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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Monday in Philadelphia that he will run for president as an independent.

Updated October 9, 2023 at 2:44 PM ET

Robert Kennedy Jr., who had been mounting a longshot challenge to President Biden for the Democratic nomination, is now running for president as an independent candidate.

"We declare independence from the two political parties and the corrupt interests that dominate them, and the entire rigged system of rancor and rage, corruption and lies," Kennedy said to applause.

Kennedy, 69, who is known for spreading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, has leveraged his famous last name for attention, while simultaneously slamming political elites.

"I haven't made this decision lightly," he said at a rally in Philadelphia. "It is very painful for me to let go of the party of my uncles, my father."

There is some indication that as an independent, Kennedy could draw more support from Trump voters than from Biden supporters. He is a darling of far-right media and is set to appear at a Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, event in Las Vegas later this month. Still, his presence in the race makes what is expected to be a close election between Biden and and his predecessor, Donald Trump, the front-runner on the Republican side, even more complicated.

The Republican National Committee responded, callingKennedy a Democrat in independent's clothing.

"He's not even close to an 'independent,'" the RNC said in a statement, one of several missives the party pushed out around Kennedy's announcement. "In fact, there is very little daylight between RFK Jr. and a typical Democrat politician."

A source familiar with the Biden campaign's thinking about third-party candidates said: "This will be a very close election, decided by a small number of voters in a small number of states. And, the stakes couldn't be higher — between an extremist who wants to take rights away and doesn't believe in rule of law, and the President who will fight for the next generation to have more rights, not fewer, and a stronger middle class.

"The President's team has multiple paths to victory and is focused on turning out their voters, persuading their persuadables, and building the coalition that will send Biden back to the White House."

Kennedy's announcement comes just days after Cornel West, the progressive activist, abandoned his own Green Party bid for the presidency in favor of an independent run. Separately, No Labels, a centrist group, is trying to field its own, yet-to-be named candidate in the race.

In his announcement in Philadelphia, Kennedy did not explain how he plans to go about gaining ballot access and which states he will target.

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.