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There are signs Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign is struggling

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The first presidential debate of 2024 will feature only two candidates, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was not able to meet CNN's criteria for Thursday's faceoff. Add to that lackluster fundraising numbers, and there are signs that the campaign is struggling. Let's ask Kennedy's campaign manager. She's also his daughter-in-law, Amaryllis Fox Kennedy. So Thursday, your candidate will not be onstage with Joe Biden and Donald Trump. How much of a missed opportunity is that for the campaign?

AMARYLLIS FOX KENNEDY: Well, look, you know, I think it's really important to recognize that this is the first time in American history that a general election debate has been owned and controlled by a single, for-profit corporation and has been held this early in the cycle, prior to the nominating conventions. And so the criteria that CNN put forth was to be on the ballot in enough states to qualify for 270 electoral votes, which - you know, we've spent the last 6 1/2 months collecting over a million signatures across the country in order to be on those ballots and had those submitted. Of course, the states take their time printing ballots - that's why the presidential debates are usually later in the cycle - and so haven't yet printed the ballots, but nor have they put President Biden or President Trump's name on those ballots because they have not officially been nominated by their parties, either. So Robert F. Kennedy Jr. fulfilled the criteria that was laid out by CNN in the same way that President Biden and President Trump did. The difference was that he's not considered the presumptive nominee of a party, and I think that's why...

MARTÍNEZ: But how did he...

KENNEDY: ...It's particularly important for him to be on this stage...

MARTÍNEZ: How did he fulfill the criteria of CNN?

KENNEDY: ...Because he's offering especially working and low-income Americans, who are really struggling with the economy that's resulted from...

MARTÍNEZ: Amaryllis, I'm going to have to stop you for a quick second here. How did...

KENNEDY: ...So much inflationary debt-spending, especially under President Trump...

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned that he...

KENNEDY: ...Who added $8 trillion to our national debt...

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned that he fulfilled the requirements of CNN. How did he do that?

KENNEDY: ...And left working people in such a terrible scenario at the moment. Many of Mr. Kennedy's most ardent supporters support him because they genuinely believe that he is the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump in this election, and they desperately don't want another four years of the chaos we all experienced.

MARTÍNEZ: Your campaign has reported that money raised in May is down from April. Also, cash on hand in May is also down from April. What do you think the - why do you think the fundraising appears to be slowing down for the Kennedy campaign?

KENNEDY: Well, you know, it's interesting. We actually have more donors - we've added more donors and supporters, for example, in the first four days of June than in all of the month of May, and likewise in May compared with the previous month, and I believe that that's a really exciting and telling sign of the growth of the movement. What we've seen is individual contributions - the actual total amount of individual donations go down, rather than the total number, and we see this as a sign of not only the economic struggles of many of our supporters, but the fact that what RFK is speaking to really resonates with people who have not participated in this larger and larger ballooning of wealth for a smaller and smaller sliver of the population and are really struggling. They've taken on a second job. They're not able to make housing payments. You know, the average mortgage payment in this country has gone up 96% in the last four years.

MARTÍNEZ: You're saying it's the economy, not necessarily that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign or ideas maybe isn't resonating as we get closer to the election.

KENNEDY: Well, we're seeing more donors and more supporters than in any prior month, so I don't think it's that. I think it's the fact that more and more of our supporters are from lower and lower income brackets, and I think that's because what Bobby has to say about not spending our money on foreign wars and on the corporate tax cuts of the Trump era and instead investing them into our communities, into our schools, into our small businesses and resuscitating our middle class in this country is really resonating with working people.

MARTÍNEZ: Quickly - just about 20 seconds left - what will Kennedy be doing on Thursday?

KENNEDY: Well, look, I think that the American people want leaders who believe in their ability to make up their own mind, and one way or another, there will be a three-way debate on Thursday. So I can't share too many details now, but please stay tuned. And he plans to give the American people the three-way debate they deserve.

MARTÍNEZ: Amaryllis Fox Kennedy is the campaign manager of independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Thank you.

KENNEDY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.