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RFK Jr names wealthy lawyer, 'warrior mom' Shanahan as running mate

Published 03/26/2024, 07:04 AM
Updated 03/26/2024, 06:21 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Independent U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. hikes with his dogs in the Santa Monica Mountains, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 18, 2024. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
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By Alexandra Ulmer and Stephanie Kelly

OAKLAND, California (Reuters) -Independent U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Tuesday picked wealthy lawyer Nicole Shanahan as his running mate, offering him the prospect of financial firepower and sought-after connections in the tech industry.

Kennedy, a prominent anti-vaccine activist who is hoping to draw voters frustrated that the Nov. 5 election features a rematch between President Joe Biden and his Republican rival Donald Trump, named Shanahan at a campaign event that included attacks on the pharmaceutical industry and COVID lockdowns.

With the choice, Kennedy bypassed better known potential candidates including National Football League star Aaron Rodgers. He told hundreds of supporters that he wanted a running mate who was "athletic," battle-tested, skeptical of regulated industries and who has empathy with the plight of average Americans.

"I'm so proud to introduce to you the next vice president the United States, my fellow lawyer, a brilliant scientist, technologist, a fierce warrior mom, Nicole Shanahan," Kennedy, 70, said at the event in Oakland.

Shanahan, the ex-wife of Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) co-founder Sergey Brin, was introduced via a video that touched on her tough upbringing in Oakland, her father's substance abuse, her success at Stanford University and the moment when she discovered her young child suffered from autism.

Shanahan said she was drawn to Kennedy in part because of their shared commitments to health. "There is no other candidate for president who takes the chronic disease epidemic as seriously as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and I will be his ally in making our nation healthy again," she said.

She said she blames environmental causes for America's poor health, citing pollution in waterways, electromagnetic waves in cell phones and "poisons" in America's food supply chain and medicines.

Kennedy is backed by 15% of registered voters, versus 39% for Biden and 38% for Trump, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. The Democratic National Committee and many political strategists say Kennedy's campaign could be a "spoiler" in the 2024 election that would help elect Trump.

"Our campaign is a spoiler. I agree with that," Kennedy said Tuesday. "It's a spoiler for President Biden and for President Trump. It's a spoiler for the war machine," Kennedy said.

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Shanahan brings little Main Street name recognition to Kennedy's ticket but her deep pockets and activism on reproductive rights could help his campaign build its coffers and generate momentum.

She is president of the private Bia-Echo Foundation, which invests in reproductive health, including helping women bear children at older ages, criminal justice reform and environmental issues.

Shanahan, 38, told the New York Times she was a creative force and financial backer of an ad in this year's Super Bowl, for which Kennedy ended up apologizing to members of his family as it heavily featured his connection to his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy.

The ad was criticized by Kennedy's cousin, Bobby Shriver, who said the late president and Shriver's mother would be "appalled by his deadly health care views" on vaccines.

In an indication of her wealth, Shanahan donated $4 million to a pro-RFK Jr super PAC, an outside spending group that has no contribution limits, for the purpose of helping fund that ad, she told the New York Times.

Shanahan has previously registered as a Democrat and federal campaign finance records show she has been a frequent donor in past election cycles to Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Pete Buttigieg.

Groups that support Biden increased efforts to discredit Kennedy around his Tuesday announcement. Clear Choice PAC Inc, a super PAC, launched a website that highlighted Kennedy shares a donor with Trump in billionaire Timothy Mellon, who has given to both candidates.

Julian Salas, a 28-year-old guitar repairman who lives in Oakland, was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a hand-written Free Palestine slogan. He voted for Jill Stein in 2020, but is keen on Kennedy this year.

"When I hear him speak he's the only candidate I feel has real authenticity and a desire to serve," said Salas. "I typically vote more Democrat but so much of the party is for things I don't agree with, like vaccine mandates or surveillance."

KENNEDY'S COUNTDOWN TO THE ELECTION

Kennedy announcement comes as many U.S. states require independent candidates to name their vice presidential nominees before they start the expensive, time-consuming and varied process of getting on state ballots.

Kennedy has collected the required amount of signatures to get on the ballot in four states, but a petition in Nevada is being contested. No Labels, another independent group this election cycle, is on the ballot in 18 states, though it has not yet announced its ticket.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Independent U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. hikes with his dogs in the Santa Monica Mountains, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 18, 2024. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Kennedy's campaign has raised over $27 million this election cycle, and American Values 2024, a super PAC that supports Kennedy's candidacy, has raised over $42 million, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Kennedy's policy proposals include a pledge to make home ownership easier and a crackdown on corporate subsidies, which have helped him gain some traction among voters.

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