Why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. won't be on CNN's debate stage

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Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. failed to qualify for the first presidential debate.

Kennedy did not meet CNN’s June 27 debate requirements, the network announced Thursday, which included a polling minimum and access to enough state's presidential ballots to theoretically be elected president. The deadline to qualify was June 20 at 12:01 am.

That means Kennedy will not join President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in Atlanta next week.

“My exclusion by Presidents Biden and Trump from the debate is undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly. Americans want an independent leader who will break apart the two-party duopoly,” Kennedy said in a statement. He also falsely claimed that debate is illegal.

In an effort to qualify, Kennedy filed a legal complaint to the Federal Election Commission. But the agency has not taken any action.

The first presidential debate of 2024 breaks a long tradition of these events being coordinated by the Commission on Presidential Debates. CNN’s debate was scheduled without the commission, and it is happening earlier than previous presidential debates.

But the cable network did borrow its three main qualifying criteria from the commission: eligibility per the Constitution (35 years old and a native-born citizen), a polling requirement to reach at least 15 percent support in four surveys from respected pollsters and officially making the ballot in enough states to theoretically win 270 Electoral College votes.

CNN declined to comment on Kennedy’s exclusion from the debate after the qualifying deadline passed.

Kennedy has drawn some of the highest support for a third-party candidate in polls since Ross Perot's independent presidential run in 1992. But he only broke 15 percent support in three polls and needed to do so in four, according to POLITICO’s tracking of qualifying polls.

The campaign has also successfully collected enough signatures to potentially get Kennedy’s name printed on the ballot in several states, including those with significant signature requirements like Texas and New York. But most of those states haven’t certified his petitions to confirm that he is on the ballot, and many won't do so until late summer.

Kennedy and his campaign staffers claimed they would qualify for the debate despite these hurdles.

“Thrilled that Presidents Biden and Trump have finally agreed to a debate!” campaign manager Amaryllis Fox Kennedy wrote on X. “We anticipate fulfilling all participation criteria by June 20th and look forward to offering American voters the three-way debate they deserve."

But Kennedy will not receive an invitation.