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Does Kennedy's campaign hurt Biden or Trump?

I keep running into Democrats who believe, firmly, that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent bid for the presidency will hurt Donald Trump’s campaign more than it hurts Joe Biden’s campaign.

And at first glance, that makes sense; the more Kennedy gets traction, the more he splits the anti-incumbent vote. Kennedy called Biden a bigger threat to democracy than Trump, and there are certain overlapping vibes between Trump’s and Kennedy’s anti-establishment attitudes.

But right now, the polling suggests Kennedy — or at least a ballot with multiple other options — is hurting Biden more than Trump. The RealClearPolitics average of Biden vs. Trump, nationally, has Trump ahead by just two-tenths of a percentage point. Throw in Kennedy, Jill Stein, and Cornel West, and Trump’s lead increases to 1.9 percentage points.

It’s a similar story in the RCP averages of state polling of Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia — Trump does about a percentage point or two better in a five-way race than in a two-candidate race. (Michigan is an exception; Trump has a slightly larger lead in a two-way race.)

The other problem with the “Kennedy hurts Trump more” theory is that a lot of political professionals are acting like Kennedy is a bigger threat to Biden.

Over in Semafor:

Allies of President Joe Biden are digging into the complicated personal life of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s running mate, Nicole Shanahan, as they eye the possibility that Kennedy’s campaign could pull votes from Biden and spoil his campaign.

The former Clinton aide James Carville has placed calls in recent weeks to prominent Silicon Valley figures about Shanahan. The inquiries have focused on Shanahan’s two marriages, long the subject of interest in Silicon Valley. Her 2023 divorce from co-founder Sergey Brin left her with the money to help finance Kennedy’s campaign.

“The tech industry is like Hollywood and there’s all sorts of stuff floating around out there,” Carville said in a brief telephone interview. “I would be totally stunned if she wasn’t a really strange person in the eyes of most people.” (Carville also said he believes Kennedy is more of a threat to Trump than to Biden, contrary to Democratic concerns.)

Wait, if Kennedy is more of a threat to Trump than to Biden, why is Carville looking for dirt on Shanahan?

Over in the New York Times:

Allies of Donald J. Trump are discussing ways to elevate third-party candidates in battleground states to divert votes away from President Biden, along with other covert tactics to diminish Democratic votes.

They plan to promote the independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a “champion for choice” to give voters for whom abortion is a top issue — and who also don’t like Mr. Biden — another option on the ballot, according to one person who is involved in the effort and who, like several others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

Trump allies also plan to amplify the progressive environmental records of Mr. Kennedy and the expected Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, in key states — contrasting their policies against the record-high oil production under Mr. Biden that has disappointed some climate activists.

A third parallel effort in Michigan is meant to diminish Democratic turnout in November by amplifying Muslim voters’ concerns about Mr. Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza. Trump allies are discussing running ads in Dearborn, Mich., and other parts of the state with large Muslim populations that would thank Mr. Biden for standing with Israel, according to three people familiar with the effort, which is expected to be led by an outside group unaffiliated with the Trump campaign.

Perhaps Kennedy’s selection of Nicole Shanahan as his running mate confirmed that this is a ticket wooing dissatisfied voters who lean to the left, rather than dissatisfied voters who lean to the right. Shanahan has described herself as “a progressive, through and through,” and she founded Bia-Echo, a private fund “that focuses on three key areas: reproductive longevity and equality; criminal justice reform; and preserving a healthy and livable planet.” She’s donated to Hillary Clinton and Emily’s List, and in 2019, she co-hosted a fundraiser for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, and later that cycle donated to Joe Biden.

None of those traits make Shanahan seem like a figure designed to win over wavering Trump voters, conservatives, or Republicans.

Democratic congressman Ro Khanna, who represents a portion of Silicon Valley, urged her to withdraw, warning, “RFK’s ticket threatens the very issues she cares about — such as climate and abortion rights.”

Again, if Kennedy and Shanahan represent a bigger threat to Trump, why are Democrats trying to get them to quit the race?

The Kennedy-Shanahan ticket is a wild card, and it’s possible their primary appeal is to voters who aren’t particularly interested in supporting either Biden or Trump. But right now, a lot of Democrats are acting like Kennedy and Shanahan will hurt Biden’s campaign more.

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