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Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign is in the hot seat after a seven-figure Super Bowl ad enraged his family and brought new public attention to his independent bid.
The $7 million TV spend by American Values, the leading Super PAC supporting his candidacy, sought to invoke his Democratic family’s imprint on politics, complete with music and strikingly similar images to former President Kennedy’s — his late uncle — 1960 campaign.
The surprise ad angered prominent members of his family, drew criticism from political pundits and cast additional scrutiny over the actions of the Super PAC, which is facing a complaint from the Democratic National Committee alleging illegal coordination with his campaign.
“This RFK Jr. Super Bowl ad has been criticized for ripping off his uncle’s 1960 campaign,” Frank Luntz, a veteran strategist, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It should actually be criticized for saying absolutely nothing. And at a cost of millions of dollars, it rips off political donors as well.”
In a sign of how much commotion the ad caused on Sunday night, Kennedy later issued an apology to those in his family who were offended by it.
“I’m so sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain,” Kennedy said.
The segment was immediately slammed by Bobby Shriver, his cousin, who said it used the face of his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, former President Kennedy’s sister.
“She would be appalled by his deadly health care views,” Shriver wrote on X. “Respect for science, vaccines, & health care equity were in her DNA.”
As concerns grow that Kennedy’s bid could help former President Trump, others in his family have come out in support of President Biden for reelection and have vocally criticized many of Kennedy’s more controversial views, including his anti-vax theories.
Despite its purported political purpose, the Sunday ad did not highlight Kennedy’s policy stances. Critics on both sides of the aisle have accused him of mounting a presidential campaign based largely on his name recognition and changing to an independent only because he was unable to beat Biden in the Democratic primary.
The ad also renewed talk about his super PAC, which has drawn allegations of violating campaign finance law. Seeking to put those concerns to rest, the 70-year-old Kennedy sought to distance himself from the ad in his statement.
“The ad was created and aired by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or approval from my campaign. FEC rules prohibit Super PACs from consulting with me or my staff,” Kennedy wrote. “I love you all. God bless you.”
Yet despite his apology, Kennedy left the 30-second ad pinned to the top of his X feed, which — according to public analytics — was seen by nearly 3 million people on the social media platform by Monday morning.
“Our momentum is growing,” Kennedy wrote in a statement accompanying the clip. “It’s time for an Independent President to heal the divide in our country.”
Kennedy, who has hovered around the double digits in polls for much of the 2024 election, has upset Democrats who see him as a possible spoiler for Biden. Some Republicans also worry he could take votes away from Trump.
But the candidate has faced questions over whether he will appear on enough ballots to actually make a difference. Kennedy is overseeing an ongoing ballot access effort across the country, including in battleground states where, if successful, he could end up tilting the election’s results in November.
Many Democrats are skeptical that his signature attempts will work, but the expansive nature of it caught the attention of the DNC, which contends he is working alongside the American Values PAC to aid the effort. If proven, it would be illegal — something Kennedy’s campaign vehemently denies.
“Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign is flouting campaign finance law by outsourcing a critical campaign function — the collection of signatures required to appear on the ballot — to an outside Super PAC that is funded by Donald Trump’s top donor this cycle,” said DNC senior adviser Mary Beth Cahill in a statement about the complaint.
“This scheme between American Values 2024 and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign requires significant — and plainly illegal — coordination, to the tune of a $15 million in-kind contribution,” she said. “This blatant disregard for federal law undermines the integrity of our democracy and electoral process, and the FEC must act decisively to put an end to this troubling scheme.”
Kennedy’s campaign called the DNC complaint a “nonissue” and part of their effort to knock down the insurgent candidate in the lead-up to the general election in the fall.
“This is a nonissue being raised by a partisan political entity that seems to be increasingly concerned with its own candidate and viability,” Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign director, told The Hill on Monday.
“To my knowledge, we have yet to receive any signatures from American Values PAC or any PAC, nor have we provided any information that is not available to every volunteer and media outlet on our public website,” Fox Kennedy said. “I am aware that they have their own signature collection tracker on their public website, but we take our FEC obligation seriously and are not permitted to tell PACs what they should and should not do with their money.”
Those who have followed Kennedy’s movements see an uptick in his activity as the ballot access push continues throughout the cycle. He has also floated the possibility of campaigning for the Libertarian Party ticket. That decision needs to be made sooner than later if he wants to retain popular support.
“I think Kennedy needs to figure out if he’s actually running as an independent or will seek the Libertarian nomination first,” said elections analyst Kyle Kondik.