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3rd-party White House bid: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to announce his VP pick

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to announce his running mate in Oakland, Calif., later today. While his path to actually winning the White House is a steep one, Kennedy's third-party candidacy is worrying both Republicans and Democrats, who see him as a potential spoiler. Marisa Lagos, from member station KQED in San Francisco, joins us now. Good morning.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: Good morning.

ELLIOTT: RFK Jr. is the son of former Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, both tragically assassinated in the 1960s. He comes from this prominent Democratic family and at one point filed to run in the Democratic presidential nomination, then announced last fall that he would be running as an independent. What's been his message so far?

LAGOS: It's been populist and anti-establishment. You know, Kennedy is a longtime environmental lawyer. He worked on things like clean water initiatives. But most attention in this race has been around him being a vaccine skeptic and promoting conspiracy theories, including linking antidepressants to school shootings and claiming that kids are transgender because of chemical exposure, both patently untrue.

ELLIOTT: A question I have here is given that he is known to campaign on falsehoods, is he showing any political momentum?

LAGOS: He is. One survey had him as high as 20% among Democratic voters. He's averaging around 10% in national polls. And it's really making both parties nervous. I talked to Paul Mitchell, a voter data expert here in California. He said Kennedy has the potential to pull votes from both Biden and Trump nationally, and that could matter if this election is as close as it was four years ago.

PAUL MITCHELL: You know, this might come down to an election where, you know, 50,000 voters in nine different counties in four different states end up deciding the election. It's a thing that creates volatility.

LAGOS: And he says that's because Kennedy's fringe messages have the potential to appeal to disaffected voters on both sides of the political spectrum.

ELLIOTT: So if he can pull votes from both Biden and Trump, is that enough to actually make a difference in the outcome of the election?

LAGOS: I mean, it could, if you consider battleground states like Arizona were decided by just over 10,000 votes in 2020. You know, we have two historically unpopular mainstream candidates. And it's not just Robert F. Kennedy Jr. There is more traditional third-party candidates like Green Party's Jill Stein and the huge question mark in this No Labels party that secured ballot access in more than a dozen states but don't actually yet have a candidate. So it's kind of a wild card whether this could, you know, throw something closer to Trump or to Biden.

ELLIOTT: Why do you think he is announcing this vice presidential pick in Oakland today? Does that have a clue in it somehow of who he might be picking?

LAGOS: We think so. You know, we've heard names ranging from former wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura to NFL quarterback and prominent anti-vaxxer Aaron Rodgers. But Nicole Shanahan has kind of floated up lately to the top of the list. She's a 38-year-old lawyer and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. She was once married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and she's been a big Democratic donor in the past. She's pretty wealthy, so that could be really helpful for Kennedy. He needs money to get on the ballot in California and elsewhere. And Shanahan has ties to Oakland, so maybe that's the pick.

ELLIOTT: That's KQED politics correspondent Marisa Lagos in San Francisco. Thanks so much.

LAGOS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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