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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mass. field coordinator for RFK Jr. campaign discusses electoral strategy

Days after Kennedy announced he is running as an independent, his campaign spoke to students on Oct. 11 about the campaign’s priorities and strategies for the upcoming election season.

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is pictured in 2021.

Timothy Kensinger, Massachusetts Field Coordinator for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign, spoke to students on Oct. 11 about the campaign’s priorities and strategies for the upcoming election season. Organized by Tufts Republicans, the event took place only days after Kennedy, who was formerly registered as a Democrat, declared that he would be running for president as an independent.

According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 14% of voters plan to cast their ballots for Kennedy, compared to 33% for Republican front-runner Donald Trump and 31% for current president Joe Biden. An environmental lawyer and member of one of America’s most legendary political families, Kennedy’s candidacy has sparked fears that he will siphon votes away from both the Democrats and the GOP.

“I think the appeal with Bobby is he’s not going to pander to either party,” Kensinger said. “He’s an independent. He has his own views. And I think just the genuineness of not being beholden to party politics … is going to … be the way that we get a lot of independents and people that don’t vote to vote for him.”

During the first portion of the event, Kensinger discussed the main issues that Kennedy would tackle as president, including increasing border security, revitalizing renewable energy infrastructure, cutting interest rates on student loans and fighting the powerful influence of large corporations on the federal government.

“Big money is so influential in politics these days,” Kensinger said. “That’s something Bobby wants to break.”

Kensinger emphasized Kennedy’s goal of reining in U.S. military spending and instead funneling those funds into bolstering domestic prosperity. Noting that the U.S. spent $877 billion on defense last year, which is more than the next ten highest countries in defense spending combined, Kensinger emphasized the need for the government to focus more on internal concerns such as rebuilding railroads and other infrastructure.

“This is one of those issues where we really need to reprioritize our government spending on making the lives of the American people better, instead of worrying about our empire growing,” he said.

Kensinger then transitioned to Kennedy’s perspectives on healthcare, one of the primary issues of his campaign. As Kensinger explained, Kennedy’s view is that too much money is being spent on developing pharmaceutical drugs, rather than studying the causes for rising chronic diseases, especially among children.

Kensinger also addressed Kennedy’s reputation as an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist. Often deemed the face of the vaccine resistance movement, Kennedy is the founder and chairman of Children’s Health Defense, an activist group that has been identified as one of the main sources for spreading misinformation on vaccines. In the past, he has promoted the scientifically discredited belief that childhood vaccines cause autism, and in 2021 told Louisiana lawmakers that the coronavirus vaccine was the “deadliest vaccine ever made.

According to Kensinger, Kennedy is not anti-vaccine, rather, he believes in vaccine safety.

“He’s not anti-vax. … He wants to make sure that the pharmaceutical products that we give our children are properly safety tested, and if you’re an adult, take whatever vaccine you want,” Kensinger said.

With the floor open for questions, one student asked about Kennedy’s environmental policy. Kennedy plans to build stronger renewable energy infrastructure across the country, including major installations of wind farms, before repealing subsidies for both fossil fuels and renewable energy and allowing the market to decide on the cheapest energy source.

“If he’s such a strong environmentalist, why repeal subsidies for renewables?” the student asked.

“He’s going to invest heavily in renewable energy,” Kensinger said. “After that transition is [complete], where we have a viable option with renewables to go against fossil fuels, that’s when he’s going to get rid of the subsidies,” Kensinger explained.

Responding to a question about Kennedy’s views on guns, Kensinger highlighted Kennedy’s respect for the Second Amendment and his desire for more research into the link between gun violence and mental health.

“He wants there to be a full, comprehensive study on the effects of environmental pollutants on mental health … to get to the bottom of the school shootings and the violence and the mental health epidemic,” Kensinger said. “That’s something that he’s really going to want to research on, but he’s not going to take away guns. He respects the Constitution, … but he is aware of the problem.”

Several students asked about Kennedy’s strategic path forward as an independent, noting the challenges that he will likely face obtaining votes from both sides of the aisle. Kensinger explained that, to appeal to Republican voters, Kennedy will need to emphasize his conservative values, including his skepticism toward vaccines and “Big Pharma,” his pro-free-speech attitude and his support for free market capitalism.

When asked how Kennedy would appeal to liberal voters, especially those who might be deterred by his conservative views, Kensinger focused on critiquing President Joe Biden.

“I think the pitch to liberals is, ‘Do you really want a president that’s fueling the war machine and bailing out big banks before helping single mothers be able to afford food for their children?’” he said.

Ultimately, however, Kensinger suggested that Kennedy’s most crucial path to victory is appealing to independent voters.

“Independents are the biggest voting bloc in the country,” Kensinger explained, noting that in Massachusetts, over 50% of registered voters are unaffiliated with either party. “So I think if we pull a major amount of independents, and then we get people that have never voted, that feel disenfranchised [and] very angry at kind of a two party system, … if you really run an independent campaign and say, ‘I’m not beholden to the Democratic Party, I’m not beholden to the Republican Party and their donors,’ … we can get a lot of people that can vote for him that typically don’t vote.”