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(NEW YORK) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent presidential campaign is approaching several key milestones as Democratic scrutiny of him ramps up.

He will soon select a running mate, after teasing names like New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and he continues to tick off states where he claims volunteers have gathered enough signatures to get him on the ballot in November.

Meanwhile, with a Donald Trump-Joe Biden matchup now set, Kennedy is polling well enough that, should the numbers hold eight months from now, he could potentially spoil various state results for either Trump or Biden — though it’s less clear whose voters the former Democrat would appeal more to.

Kennedy’s campaign is facing increased attacks, too, with some critics aligned with the major parties fearful he could peel away crucial ballots in the swing states whose thin margins have decided recent presidential races.

The Democratic National Committee is getting directly involved and has created its first team to counter independent and third-party candidates, with an eye specifically on Kennedy — a member of perhaps the country’s most famous Democratic family — sources familiar confirmed to ABC News.

The party hired veteran operative Lis Smith, widely known for her aggressive work bolstering then-candidate Pete Buttigieg during the 2020 presidential race. A spokesperson for the team said Kennedy and other outside candidates were potential “stalking horses for Donald Trump,” a label that Kennedy rejects.

On Wednesday, Kennedy’s campaign said he plans to announce his running mate choice on March 26 in Oakland, California. Kennedy has told ABC News that Rodgers is among his preferred choices, though Rodgers hasn’t commented.

He has spoken approvingly of Kennedy in the past, however, according to ESPN. He and Kennedy also have gone hiking together, according to a photo that Kennedy recently shared on social media. (And Rodgers, like Kennedy, has spoken misleadingly about COVID-19 vaccines.)

Kennedy had been set to select his running mate in the coming weeks, his campaign manager previously told ABC News, due mostly to the requirement that he have one to apply for ballot access as an independent in certain states.

Increasingly less likely, though, appears to be a run atop the Libertarian Party’s ticket. While Kennedy invited speculation about the move — because it would give him the thing he needs most: access to each state’s ballot — he has not signaled that he’s moving any closer to trying to earn the party’s nomination.

Kennedy attended last month’s California Libertarian Party convention (reportedly to a mixed reception), but he will not be at this weekend’s New York gathering, according to Prince Agarwal, the campaign’s state director.

That leaves him, at least in the meantime, with the responsibility of getting himself on the ballot in every state, a painstaking and expensive process that requires dispatching volunteers to gather thousands of signatures.

But Kennedy, who ran as a Democrat until October, seems energized by the process.

“Over the long term … it’s going to put us in better shape,” he told ABC News in Las Vegas last month, noting that the people his volunteers solicit for signatures are voters his team can later contact to urge them to cast ballots for him.

He told Fox News recently that he has found it “extraordinarily easy, actually, to persuade people to sign.”

The campaign has so far secured access to just one state’s ballot — Utah — but says it has gathered enough signatures in at least three others, including the swing state of Nevada.

Officials in each of those states have either not responded to requests for comment or have told ABC News they will not work to verify the signatures until a later date.

American Values 2024, a super PAC which supports Kennedy but is legally barred from coordinating with the campaign, has also been working to get Kennedy on the ballot in several states — even gathering enough signatures, it says, in three more battleground states: Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.

However, the group’s activities spurred a complaint from the DNC with the Federal Election Commission last month, claiming that its ballot access efforts are illegal.

Tony Lyons, co-chair of American Values 2024, has denied the accusations, but the Kennedy campaign is nevertheless working to accrue its own signatures in Arizona: The campaign’s website lists several future ballot access events in the state.

The political action committee also said on social media this week that they are “no longer collecting signatures in any additional states,” citing Kennedy’s own efforts.

Democrats on the attack

So far, Democrats more so than Republicans have treated Kennedy as a 2024 threat, citing contributions from one megadonor to paint his campaign as a ploy to poach Biden voters and hand the presidency to Trump.

“It’s not a coincidence that [Kennedy] … is now being propped up by practically $20 million from the largest donor to Donald Trump this cycle,” Smith, the strategist now leading the Democrats’ anti-Kennedy efforts, told ABC News, referring to Timothy Mellon, a deep-pocketed businessman who has given to both pro-Trump and pro-Kennedy groups.

In February, the DNC paid to erect billboards in Michigan, a key presidential battleground, featuring photos of both Kennedy and Trump.

“Same biggest donor,” it read.

Mellon did not respond to interview requests, but in a statement through Lyons, the co-chair of American Values 2024, he said, in part: “The fact that Kennedy gets so much bipartisan support tells me … that he’s the one candidate who can unite the country and root out corruption.”

Kennedy’s campaign pitches itself as designed to help “reunite America” and mixes platform planks from both major parties, with a focus both on environmentalism and the “humanitarian crisis” at the border along with labor rights and housing and education costs and pledges to “end … censorship and surveillance” and “bring home the troops.”

Public polling indicates Kennedy is a long shot to win the presidency. He scratches double-digits in some recent general election polls, but that’s it.

But if that level of support endures to the general election, it could affect the results in critical swing states like Georgia and Michigan which either Biden or Trump won in 2016 and 2020 by mere percentage points or less.

While polling indicates Kennedy may be taking support from Biden, conversations with some of his most vocal supporters suggest the truth is more complex: Almost every one of a nearly dozen people who spoke to ABC News at a Kennedy rally in Las Vegas this winter said they would vote for Trump if Kennedy were not in the race.

Some cited Kennedy’s self-described support for free speech and his skepticism of vaccines, especially those for COVID-19.

“I’ve been an anti-vaxxer since 1980 since a reaction that I had to a vaccination,” Linda Thompson, a 64-year-old salesperson, told ABC News at the rally. “I like a lot of what he says.”

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, has made his distrust of vaccines, pharmaceutical companies and federal health agencies a core part of his national profile.

He and his allies reject the notion that he is “anti-vaccine,” but Kennedy’s own words call that into question: In an interview last year with podcaster Lex Fridman, for example, he said, “There is no vaccine that is, you know, safe and effective.”

Presented with the clip months later on CNN, Kennedy called that remark “a bad choice of words.”

“I can say right now there is no medicine for cancer that’s safe and effective. It doesn’t mean I’m against all medicines. I’ve been fighting for two years to get mercury out of fish. Nobody calls me anti-fish,” he said.

Josh Novotney, a Philadelphia-based Republican consultant, told ABC News that Kennedy’s view on vaccines “definitely is something that hits with Republicans” more than Democrats.

But, he added, “I think this year, more than a lot of years, someone like that is going to draw from both sides,” citing the distaste many Americans have with a Trump-Biden rematch.

“The question is, which base of the two major parties is more discontent with their nominee? And I think Kennedy probably has a better shot with the base that has more discontent, and my gut there is that’s Democrats,” said Novotney.

Kennedy’s donors: friends and $100k worth of alpaca shawls

Though Democrats focus on Mellon, Kennedy’s bid is supported by an eclectic group of donors, including lifelong Democrats and deep-pocketed friends who had never given to a political candidate before now.

A $7 million pro-Kennedy ad which popped onto Americans’ screens in the second quarter of the Super Bowl — and which angered some members of Kennedy’s family over its riffing on President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign spot — was bankrolled in large part by Nicole Shanahan, a California lawyer who has given to Democratic candidates.

Shanahan told ABC News she initially supported Kennedy last year, when he was running as a Democrat, because she “thought he would bring a new voice about environmental health to the party.”

Now, she is “concerned for the DNC.”

“I want to see the DNC fostering their core values and I don’t think that they have been doing a good job with that as of late,” said Shanahan, who still calls herself a “lifelong Democrat” likely to support Democratic candidates in certain down-ballot races this year. “But I have faith that they can turn it around and I think they can return to the core values of the party — and I hope they do, and I’m here for it.”

Multiple other high-dollar donors who spoke to ABC News cited their personal relationships with Kennedy — and Kennedy’s “character” — as reasons for giving to the campaign, even if they think the odds of him winning are low.

“I think it’s a long shot and I think it’s going to take a miracle,” said Jeff Hays, a Utah filmmaker (whose anthology includes a documentary titled, “The Real RFK Jr.”) who began giving to Kennedy after being “moved” by his biography, he said.

“And I would not be surprised to see a miracle,” he said.

Lessing Stern, who gave $50,000 to American Values 2024 in January, called Kennedy “a close friend.”

“I know him. I know his character. I know what he’s all about,” Stern told ABC News.

Among the largest donations to Kennedy’s bid is also the strangest: more than $100,000 worth of alpaca shawls, handed out to the roughly 250 people who attended Kennedy’s birthday party earlier this winter.

Daniel Adams, who co-owns an alpaca-based clothing business, gave the in-kind contribution to American Values 2024 to support a candidate he told ABC News is “exactly what our country needs at the moment.”

ABC News’ Brittany Shepherd contributed to this report.

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