A Major Election Wild Card: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

THE WILD CARD: Polls are all over the lot now — Donald Trump has a slight lead nationally, and is ahead in most swing states — but there’s a major wild card that totally scrambles the outlook: the third party challenge by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

STRATEGISTS IN BOTH MAJOR PARTIES reacted with dismay this week when Kennedy hinted that he might run not as an independent candidate but rather as the nominee of the Libertarian Party, which is fairly well organized in most key states.

“THAT’S SOMETHING WE’RE LOOKING AT,” Kennedy says. “We have a really good relationship with the Libertarian Party.” His views are controversial: anti-vaccine, quite liberal on social and economic issues, and not as pro-gun as many Libertarians would prefer. But his last name is iconic, and he’s likely to win 3 -4% of the vote nationwide — at least.

MANY DEMOCRATS FEAR THAT Kennedy would take votes from President Biden — and they also worry about who the “No Labels” party will pick in early March as its candidate. Could it be an establishment Democrat like Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or former Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley? She would electrify the race, and would have an outside chance of winning the presidency is a close three-candidate race.

ANY THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE would worry mainstream Democrats. Many still remember the 2000 race, when liberal gadfly Ralph Nader won nearly 3 million votes, 2.4% of the electorate. He probably cost Al Gore the presidency, many political analysts believe.

AS FOR THE CURRENT RACE, polls this week were decidedly mixed. One survey, from Quinnipiac University, showed Biden ahead by 6% nationwide, which seems higher than most polls. A Bloomberg poll of the major swing states had grim news for the Biden team —

Georgia: Trump 49, Biden 41;
Arizona: Trump 47, Biden 44;
Wisconsin: Trump 49, Biden 44;
North Carolina: Trump 49, Biden 39;
Michigan: Trump 47, Biden 42;
Pennsylvania: Trump 48, Biden 45
Nevada: Trump 48, Biden 40.

The Electoral College, at this early date, tilts toward Trump.

Related: Ten Things We’re Hearing on Capitol Hill