Just two weeks ago, New Hampshire Democrats were laughing off talk about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. mounting a serious challenge.
But as RFK, Jr’s polls surge, the laugh may be on Joe Biden.
Two recent polls show Kennedy has the support of about one in five Democrats over incumbent President Joe Biden. In the latest Emerson poll, just 65 percent of Democrats nationwide said Biden should be the nominee, while 35 percent wanted someone else.
In a head-to-head matchup, Biden got 70 percent of the vote, RFK, Jr. got 21 percent, and self-help guru Marianne Williamson got eight percent.
A Fox News poll taken the same week gave Biden 62 percent, Kennedy 19 percent, and Williamson 9 percent.
Both numbers show a Kennedy surge in his short time in the race.
“We are gratified to see the very positive response from the American people to Mr. Kennedy’s campaign, which, by the way, is only one week old,” a Kennedy spokesperson told NHJournal.
And Biden isn’t helped by his overall approval rating dropping to 37 percent, the lowest of his presidency. Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said in this environment; it’s not a surprise that some Democratic primary voters are willing to consider alternatives.
“I’ve estimated [Kennedy] could get as much of 30 percent of the vote,” Schoen told Fox News over the weekend. “He has an anti-Ukraine War pitch — ‘we should spend the money at home helping the poor.’ He’s an environmentalist, and then the intangible: His name is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.”
Sources close to the Kennedy campaign tell NHJournal he will be campaigning aggressively in New Hampshire, where voters who backed Bernie Sanders over Biden will hear a message of economic populism that sounds very familiar.
D.C. Democrats have noticed. As NHJournal has reported, Biden’s decision to push New Hampshire out of the official FITN slot meant his name wouldn’t appear on the ballot. That would give Kennedy a huge opportunity to win the first primary of the 2024 cycle, an embarrassing outcome for an 81-year-old incumbent president. (Contrary to multiple media reports, New Hampshire Democrats will hold the first primary of 2024 and on the same day as the GOP.)
What will Biden do? Democratic strategist Ed Kilgore, writing in “New York” magazine, said Biden couldn’t possibly participate in an unsanctioned primary the DNC bumped at his request. “It would be a bit absurd for the party’s leader to violate the party’s rules,” Kilgore wrote.
But Lisa Kashinsky at Politico reported that “a Biden campaign aide said the president and his team would abide by any sanctions imposed by the DNC if that were to happen.”
Either way, Biden looks bad. He sits out the New Hampshire race and loses to Kennedy, or he’s so weak he has to break his own rules and get his name on the ballot.
As a Wall Street Journal headline puts it, “Has Biden Already Lost Iowa and New Hampshire?”
Kilgore said Democrats might be able to “persuade the political media to ignore whatever happens in Iowa (if the state goes rogue) and New Hampshire.” Even so, he said, “The smart thing for [the DNC and the Biden campaign] is to threaten local Democrats in any state Biden can’t enter with unending vengeance if they in any way encourage other candidates or lend credence to their empty ‘wins.’”
Talk of threats isn’t likely to help Biden keep Granite State Democrats on board. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told a Boston TV station Biden’s decision to strip the state of its official First in the Nation primary will hurt their party.
“I think it has implications for Democrats in the state. Hopefully not for the general election, but we don’t know that yet.”