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What RFK Jr. can learn from Evan McMullin

Plus, a look at how abortion could decide the 2024 election in Arizona

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Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign event at Independence Mall on Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign event at Independence Mall on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.

Matt Rourke, Associated Press

This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

The big news on the campaign front: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will no longer be seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2024, and instead will run as an independent. Read my coverage here.

And the horrific situation in Israel has caused presidential candidates to weigh in on foreign policy. (More here.)

Here’s more of the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

What RFK Jr. can learn from Evan McMullin

Minutes after Kennedy announced his candidacy as an independent, I called Joel Searby. If anyone knows the steep path independent candidates walk, it’s Searby: he was the campaign manager for Evan McMullin in 2016, and since then, he’s taken on a number of different assignments with the Renew America Movement and the Forward Party.

McMullin was the most recent independent candidate to run a presidential campaign of any consequence. The ex-CIA agent managed to finish fifth overall (behind Trump, Clinton, and the Libertarian and Green Party candidates). He set write-in voting records in over a dozen states. At least three sitting senators voted for him.

Now, the McMullin and Kennedy campaigns could not be more different. McMullin’s motive was attempting to bar Trump from winning the presidency; Kennedy has a more broad, populist agenda. McMullin, a lifelong Republican, garnered support from moderates and disaffected Republicans; Kennedy, a member of the Democrat Party’s most prominent family, appeals to a broad swath of populist voters (including some MAGA folks).

Regardless of the differences, Searby can offer sympathy. “As the last guy who really tried to spearhead running an independent presidential campaign, I know how hard it is, because of the barriers that have been put up by the two major parties,” Searby said.

Inner-party barriers were a major motive for Kennedy’s decision to stop competing for the Democratic nomination, as he claimed the Democratic National Committee was “rigging” the system to keep him from getting on the Democratic ballot (and competing with Biden). But the path for independent candidates is just as fraught. Instead of dealing with a party’s rules for getting on the ballot, candidates must maneuver all 50 states’ policies — anything from paying a fee to gathering thousands of signatures from a state’s voters.

McMullin, who launched his campaign less than three months before Election Day, resorted to campaigning as a write-in candidate in those states where he’d missed the deadline for filing for ballot access.

“It’s all over the gamut,” Searby said. “And it’s both Republican and Democratic states that make it hard to get on the presidential ballot.”

On paper, it seems like the stage is set for an independent candidate. Both Biden and Trump deal with high unfavorability ratings. A recent Gallup poll shows support for a third political party at 63%. A poll from Pew shows a growing number of Americans disillusioned by both major parties.

But when Election Day arrives, these sympathies often succumb to familiarity. “I think there’s going to be pretty broad appeal for a candidate like RFK,” Searby said. “The challenge is that voter psychology is a multidecade, deeply embedded challenge for anyone to overcome.” When handed a ballot, Duverger’s law usually prevails: candidates revert to voting for a major-party candidate.

Whether Kennedy — or Cornel West or any of the other third-party or independent candidates — will launch a significant challenge to the front-runners is anyone’s guess. They do have a year to get on ballots across the country. That’s the first step.

What I’m reading

Arizona is widely considered to be one of the states that could swing the 2024 election. Here’s an interesting look at the ongoing fight over abortion there, where progressive groups are pushing to get a constitutional right to abortion on the ballot. How Abortion Could Decide the Battleground State of Arizona in 2024 (Adrian Carrasquillo, The Messenger)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s name still gets thrown around a fair amount in discussions of the 2024 field for the GOP presidential nomination. A small group of Republicans seem convinced that he’s best poised to beat Trump. (It doesn’t help their case that Youngkin is not interested in running.) But maybe we should keep talking about Youngkin — not because he’ll be running for president, but because the down-ballot races in his state this fall could tell us a lot about 2024. Should you believe the polls or the special elections? There’s a third way: Virginia (Steven Shepard, Politico)

Border security and immigration have taken center-stage on the Republican side. Here’s a sharp analysis of what Republicans are proposing and whether their novel strategies are supported by data (or history). Some GOP candidates want to use force against Mexico to stop fentanyl. Experts say that won’t work (Adriana Gomez Licon, Associated Press)

What to watch

The Israel-Hamas war could become a central part of the election, as I wrote Monday. Tim Scott will be delivering a speech this afternoon at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., vowing continued support for Israel. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have gone on cable networks with a similar message. Expect other candidates to follow suit.

Any election-related questions for our Friday Mailbag? Send them my way — onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

See you on the trail.


Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.