(WASHINGTON) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination over President Joe Biden — but much of his backing so far, including financial, appears to be coming from supporters of the opposing party.
Filings released on Monday by the Kennedy-aligned American Values 2024 super PAC shed new light on the candidate’s popularity with people with conservative leanings.
The super PAC, which can support Kennedy with outside advertising and other spending but cannot directly coordinate with him, raised a total of $9.7 million through the end of June.
Almost all of that sum, 96%, came from two megadonors, one of them with a history of donating to Republicans: $5 million, more than 50% of the group’s total receipts for the first half of the year, was given by Timothy Mellon, heir to the Mellon banking fortune, who previously gave more than $20 million to a super PAC supporting former President Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle.
In a statement provided by the pro-Kennedy super PAC, Mellon said that he believes Kennedy is “the one candidate who can unite the country and root out corruption and that he’s the one Democrat who can win in the general election.”
Another $4.5 million of the donations to the super PAC came from author and security specialist Gavin De Becker, who has regularly donated to both Republican and Democratic causes, federal filings show.
De Becker most recently drew media attention for his work as a security consultant for Jeff Bezos.
In his own statement circulated by the super PAC, De Becker said, in part: “We Democrats sorely need a candidate people can be enthusiastic about, someone brave enough to tell the truth.”
De Becker also swiped at Biden’s lack of early campaign events, compared to Kennedy — and former President Donald Trump.
A statement from American Values 2024 reported that it earned an additional $6.5 million in July for a grand total of more than $16 million since launching, though the details of that $6.5 have not been released in filings yet.
Kennedy’s official campaign committee has likewise received a notable amount of its money from Republicans.
Of 104 donors who gave more than $6,000 since Kennedy launched his bid, only one in four had given exclusively to Democrats in the past, according to the campaign’s Federal Election Commission filing covering April-June. And 39% of those donors had histories of donating to Republicans while 30% had only ever donated to Republican causes.
Kennedy’s platform broadly aligns with many Democratic policies, and — as a scion of one of America’s most famous Democratic families — he has deep ties in the party. But polls show he is a long shot rival to Biden, who maintains a more than 60-point lead in national polls so far, according to FiveThirtyEight.
The Democratic National Committee has reiterated its support for Biden as the 2024 nominee and no debates are expected, despite the primary being nominally contested by Kennedy and author Marianne Williamson.
Kennedy has reached beyond Democratic voters, appearing before numerous conservative audiences, including on the far-right conspiracy podcast InfoWars, in regular interviews on Fox News and at the “ReAwaken America” tour hosted by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“What I’m trying to do in this race is bring people together, is to try to bridge the divide between Americans,” he said during a NewsNation town hall last month.
Trump has praised Kennedy in recent interviews, calling him “a smart guy and well-intentioned,” while Kennedy has rebuffed the former president.
In a July interview with The New Yorker, Kennedy said that he was “not a friend” of Trump’s “but I think we should criticize people on policy.”
Last month, Kennedy was invited by congressional Republicans to testify before a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the topic of censorship. His appearance came after controversial comments he was recorded making where he cited a false conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was “targeted to” certain ethnicities while Chinese people and Jews of European descent were more immune.
Democrats in Congress widely condemned those remarks and pushed unsuccessfully for Republicans to disinvite Kennedy from Capitol Hill.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended Kennedy’s perspective at the hearing while criticizing what Kennedy said about COVID-19. “I disagree with everything he said,” McCarthy said last month. “The hearing that we have this week is about censorship. I don’t think censoring somebody is actually the answer here.”
In his testimony, Kennedy said he had “never uttered a phrase that was either racist or antisemitic.” He previously insisted to ABC News that he was misunderstood.
Kennedy’s campaign argues that his popularity among Republicans is a strength of his candidacy.
In an interview with ABC News last month, American Values Co-Chairman Mark Gorton said that he believes Kennedy can appeal to a broad swath of Americans.
“Bobby, I think he’s basically, you know, drawing from people who are … outside the system, or at the very least want to see the system seriously reformed,” Gorton said then.
American Values maintained at the time that it had received donations from an even split of Republican and Democratic donors.
According to recent New York Times/Siena College polling, Kennedy received net positive favorability ratings among Republicans, with 55% saying they had either a somewhat or very favorable impression of him compared to 21% with either a somewhat or very unfavorable impression.
The same Times/Siena poll finds that while 23% of Democrats felt somewhat or very favorable of Kennedy, 50% felt somewhat or very unfavorable.
While Kennedy’s economic and environmental platforms include many standard Democratic values and policies, his history of spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation on public health issues — particularly around vaccines, even as he insists that he isn’t anti-vaccination — has put him at odds with others in his party and a majority of the scientific and medical community.
Richard Bensel, a political science professor at Cornell University, believes that, much like Trump, some of Kennedy’s support may come from voters who feel “alienated” from the political mainstream.
Research suggests that these voters often “identify with a leader, more than with policies,” Bensel said. “They’re not partisan in the traditional sense.”
Kennedy has defended his chances.
“I’m up against a very, very formidable force: the Democratic Party. But I also think that I have a lot of paths to victory,” he said at a forum in New York City last week. “I think all of us wonder what’s going to happen between now and the first primary … I would only say that, you know, when Moses started out for the Red Sea, he didn’t know how he was going to get across it.”
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