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Robert Kennedy Jr. taps a wealthy California attorney as his running mate

Nicole Shanahan waves from the podium during a campaign event for independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. The California attorney is now RFK's running mate.
Eric Risberg
/
AP
Nicole Shanahan waves from the podium during a campaign event for independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. The California attorney is now RFK's running mate.

Updated March 26, 2024 at 4:26 PM ET

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has announced a wealthy California attorney as the running mate for his independent presidential campaign, a necessary step as he tries to get on state ballots for November.

Nicole Shanahan, 38, is the president and director of the Bia-Echo Foundation, a charitable organization that says it focuses its investments in "Reproductive Longevity & Equality, Criminal Justice Reform and a Healthy and Livable Planet."

Kennedy is the son of the former U.S. attorney general and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. He's a longtime environmental lawyer but has become known in recent years for his anti-vaccine advocacy and as a promoter of conspiracy theories.

Kennedy, whose independent candidacy has drawn concern from both Democrats and Republicans for potentially drawing support away from the two major parties, announced the running mate pick Tuesday in Oakland.

The announcement was preceded by speakers criticizing pandemic restrictions and alleged censorship.

Kennedy said he and Shanahan hold similar values around everything from education and agriculture to skepticism of "Big Pharma" and the government.

"And you know what? Despite the artificially orchestrated divisions, nearly all Americans share the same values that we do," he said. "And I'm grateful that Nicole has put her self-interest aside and made the momentous and very, very difficult decision to embark with me on this extraordinary crusade to win back our country."

Shanahan has no political experience but deep ties to California's tech industry, and was once married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. She has also given money previously to Democrats, including President Biden, but recently has been a key financial backer of a pro-Kennedy super PAC, contributing $4 million to help the group air a $7 million ad during the Super Bowl.

That ad, which largely copied a 1960 ad for his uncle's presidential campaign, was slammed by Democrats and many members of the Kennedy family, who notably and pointedly support Biden's reelection.

At the Oakland event Tuesday, Shanahan said her background in tech and passion tackling the rise in chronic disease are some of the attributes that will guide her role in Kennedy's campaign.

"The vision we share is a vision of national healing, it is an America that leads the world, no longer through force of arms, but through the power of example," she said.

The selection of a political novice as a running mate that could bring an influx of cash to the campaign comes as Kennedy seeks to get on the ballot in all 50 states, which the campaign says takes at least a million signatures on petitions that comply with rules and deadlines that differ from state to state.

So far, the campaign and the supporting super PAC say Kennedy has enough signatures to qualify for ballots in several states, including the battlegrounds of Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.

Kennedy had told the New York Times that his running mate shortlist included New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Jesse Ventura, a former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler. Rogers has courted controversy in recent years for his views on vaccines and other topics.

Shanahan told Newsweek last month that she was vaccinated against COVID-19, and that calling Kennedy or anyone else an "anti-vaxxer" is "so unfair to the cause of objectively funding scientific research."

As of the latest campaign finance filings, Kennedy reported nearly $28 million in contributions, including almost $19 million from about 67,000 donors who gave more than $200. The pro-Kennedy American Values 2024 PAC raised more than $42 million and spent $24 million in support of his candidacy.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.