Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is in talks to run on the Libertarian Party presidential ticket — a move that could translate his popularity into becoming a near-guaranteed choice on ballots in all 50 states.

Libertarian Party Chair Angela McArdle spoke with Kennedy in recent weeks following his appearance at the California party convention at the end of February. The two have been in contact since last July about the third party’s nominating process, which is decided by unbound delegates at the national convention this May in Washington.

The party switch would ease his ballot access hurdles and buttress his campaign with an organized network of supporters.

Kennedy is not a libertarian — he started his presidential campaign as a Democrat — but the alliance would be mutually beneficial. The Libertarian Party has consistently made it on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the Libertarian ticket has performed better at the presidential level when it has a candidate with high name recognition.

“It’s go time, but if he whips — as we call it — whips for votes, then he could do it,” McArdle told POLITICO. “Kennedy is a real dark horse.”

McArdle encouraged Kennedy to attend a state convention if he was interested in seeking the nomination, and California has a large delegation for the national convention. Plans to attend another state function ahead of the national convention are still on the table.

Kennedy, for his part, seems open to the idea. “The Kennedy campaign is keeping all its options open,” campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear said in a statement.

The independent candidate appeals to many libertarians thanks to his activism against vaccine mandates following Covid-19. Kennedy also hosted a campaign rally with former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who considered running for president and vice president with the Libertarian Party in several election cycles. And in an interview with Reason magazine last summer, Kennedy said, “I’ve always been aligned with libertarians on most issues. I mean, there’s tweaks that I have.”

Kennedy’s attendance at the California convention received rave reviews and drew record-breaking attendance.

“A lot of people came out. We broke records all the way across the board as far as revenue brought in [and] attendance,” said California party Chair Adrian F. Malagon. “I know that a lot of libertarians were excited to see him. But ultimately, it’s up to the delegates at the national convention.”

State party conventions are voting on who to send as delegates to the national convention now, but once in Washington, they are not attached to any candidate and can vote freely for whoever they’d like to be the nominee.

While Kennedy mulls his options, he’s already inspired foot soldiers who want to help him get the Libertarian Party nomination.

Rank-and-file Libertarian Party members Jorge Besada and Hector Roos spun up the Libertarians for Kennedy website as part of a grassroots effort to grow support. Besada said he also traveled to the New York convention to make the pitch for Kennedy in person to activists in another delegate-rich state. Roos said they’re in regular contact with a national field director on the Kennedy team, though they’ve not talked with Kennedy or his campaign manager.

The nascent effort from Libertarians for Kennedy has the support of just two delegates on their online form, Besada said. That is not nearly enough to win at a national convention. But then, Kennedy is not even an officially announced candidate.

“He could decide at the last minute that he wants to do it,” said Dustin Blankenship, who is a Libertarian National Committee at-large member and part of multiple committees for the upcoming convention.

But he added, “things change when you get to convention,” and Kennedy would fare better if he recruited delegates sooner rather than later.

Conventions for the two major parties are now mostly ceremonial, but until the mid-20th century this sort of last-minute coalition building and vote whipping was commonplace to decide the party’s nominee.

The Libertarians have consistently made it on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington, DC. Though comparatively small in membership, they regularly field candidates in not just presidential contests but at all levels of the ballot. Arguably, their candidate pushed the Georgia Senate race to a runoff in 2022.

So far, Kennedy is only officially on the ballot in Utah, though his campaign and a super PAC backing his bid both claim they’ve collected sufficient signatures in seven more states. Ballot access is a logistical, bureaucratic and sometimes litigious obstacle for third party and independent candidates. Kennedy has already sued multiple states over ballot petition deadlines that he has argued are unconstitutionally early.

But he would have an easier path to the ballot with the Libertarian Party, which is already on the ballot in 36 states, according to Ballot Access News.

But while much of the national spotlight is on Kennedy, there are currently more than a dozen announced Libertarian Party candidates vying for the nomination.

Some Libertarian Party members are open to Kennedy trying to join their ballot line, all the party leaders interviewed said. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who had higher name recognition than previous candidates, led to a record high vote share.

But there are factions within the party that aren’t open to lending their ballot line to a candidate who doesn’t completely align with the party’s manifesto, particularly its non-interventionist and anti-war position.

Kennedy has become the most dedicated pro-Israel candidate left in the presidential contest. He has not called for a cease-fire and supports unconditional aid to Israel after Oct. 7. In an interview last December, Kennedy said, “You talk about solutions for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people are arguably the most pampered people by international aid organizations in the history of the world.”

“Israel has no obligation,” Kennedy also said.

One staffer cited Kennedy’s support for Israel in his resignation letter following that interview.

McArdle said this is Kennedy’s biggest difference with the party, and this could become a sticking point for members at the convention.

“I think to his credit, he does want to come to a consensus and find some agreement,” McArdle said. “So that argument may still be sorting itself out. But the majority of our members are going to say no to funding Israel and to enabling any of the death and destruction that’s happening in Gaza. And it’s a pretty hard line.”

There would be compromises from both the campaign and the party if Kennedy were to seek the nomination. But Malagon said it’s important to acknowledge the advantages, as well.

“There are benefits to having someone have that kind of notoriety and bringing the ballot access issue to the forefront. Now whether that’s enough to convince delegates at the national convention, should he throw his hat in the ring, will be a different story,” he said. “But I think it would be pretty silly to not acknowledge the actual benefits.”

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