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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

Estrich: RFK Jr. should not be on debate stage

By Susan Estrich
Published: June 10, 2024, 6:01am

With the deadline quickly approaching for him to qualify for the June CNN presidential debate, RFK Jr. has yet to meet the sensible qualifications that CNN has set for participants. Which is as it should be. He doesn’t belong on the stage. His candidacy is at best a distraction and at worst a spoiler. What it most certainly is not is a serious bid for the presidency.

He is the candidate of confusion — a Kennedy who has no legitimate claim to the legacy he is running on, opposed unanimously by his own family. If he had a different name, he would be readily dismissed as the quack that he is. CNN should stick to its guns and keep him off the stage, and efforts to keep him off the ballot are critically important.

There are two criteria that CNN has set for a serious debate to help pick the next president. The first is a showing of at least 15 percent in four nationally recognized polls. Kennedy currently has three of those qualifying polls, one from CNN itself, and the other two from Quinnipiac University and Marquette University Law School. Those polls are in one sense outliers; a poll from The New York Times, in the same time period, has him as low as 2 percent, an indication of the variations in polling and the way the questions are asked. Still, if he can score in one more poll, he would have met one of the criteria.

The second criteria is the one Kennedy is not close to meeting, as the deadline for doing so draws nearer. An independent or third party, the CNN rules say, “must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidency.” He must, in short, appear on enough ballots that if he won in every state where he is officially qualified for the ballot, he would have a majority of the Electoral College.

Kennedy is not even close. The New York Times reports that after months of effort and millions of dollars spent on collecting signatures, fighting for minor-party endorsements and legal action, Kennedy has officially qualified in only six states — California, Utah, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Michigan and Delaware — totaling 89 Electoral College votes, less than one-third of what he needs.

The campaign says he has qualified for the ballot in 11 other states where it has filed petitions — Nebraska, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, New York and New Jersey — but its status has not yet been confirmed in those states and might not be in time for the June 27 debate. An application to be on the ballot is not enough, according to the CNN rules; it must actually be approved. And even if all of them were, that would still leave him 32 electoral votes short.

Recently, Kennedy filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against CNN, claiming that it violated campaign finance laws by colluding with the Biden and Trump campaigns to keep him out of the debate. “CNN adopted criteria that they believed would keep me off the stage,” he said.

The complaint is hogwash. Nothing in federal election law stops CNN from sponsoring a debate limited to the serious candidates for the presidency and keeping an imposter with no chance of winning off the stage. As he should be.

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