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After trying week, RFK Jr. brings Nicole Shanahan on campaign trail for rare appearance

Written by on May 15, 2024

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spent a week dogged by self-damaging rhetoric, leaving him to defend the state of his health and scramble to rework his position on abortion after facing dissent from within his own campaign.

But on Monday, he had something to celebrate: the prospect that he had earned a spot on the ballot in Texas, a coup for an independent candidate in a state that forces independents to gather at least 113,000 signatures from registered voters across the state, a much larger haul than required in most states. The campaign delivered boxes of signatures to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, a spokeswoman for whom told ABC News the campaign’s petition is “under review.”

Kennedy touted the accomplishment at an Austin rally alongside his running mate, Nicole Shanahan, whose appearance itself was noteworthy, as the California lawyer had maintained a reclusive approach to the campaign trail since she was announced as Kennedy’s running mate in late March.

Texas is the 14th state in which the Kennedy campaign says it has met the criteria for ballot access. The signature requirement also made it the most grueling.

“If you can get on in Texas, you can get on everywhere,” Kennedy said on stage in Austin.

Yet the campaign still faces hurdles to gain ballot access in each state, a goal Kennedy and his aides say they will achieve.

Already, they face the prospect of starting their signature-gathering from scratch in Nevada after they submitted petition forms that lacked the name of a vice presidential candidate, violating the state’s rules.

And Democrats will likely try to obstruct Kennedy’s progress, as they already attempted in Hawaii, where the state ruled against the Hawaii Democratic Party after it challenged the ballot access petition of a new political party created just for Kennedy.

Shanahan makes trail debut, but some Kennedy voters still skeptical

Much of the spotlight this weekend was on Shanahan, who made her debut on the campaign trail in Houston on Saturday before accompanying Kennedy at the Austin rally two days later.

The Houston event was an intimate panel-like forum that focused on criminal justice reform and allowed Shanahan, who has invested time and money into addressing issues in the justice system, to showcase what appears to be her most tangible attribute: her authenticity and passion for the things she cares about.

Before she addressed the audience in Houston, she turned to each panelist, all of whom had described scarring experiences with the law, and thanked them one by one. She then fought tears during her remarks as she discussed the “legacy of the ruthlessness of the American psyche.”

She even came prepared with a quote from the psychologist Carl Jung, reading it with dramatic effect.

But at times during her Texas appearances, her delivery felt dissonant with the desires of her audience, especially among attendees of the Austin rally, who seemed more eager for an injection of energy than a perfectly woven soliloquy.

The crowd of about 800 cheered loudly when Shanahan was introduced, but soon fell quiet when the candidate, whose appearance marked one of her first public events, opened her speech by saying, “I want to talk about soil,” prompting a minuteslong metaphor about the need to fix America’s “foundation.”

Shanahan eventually hit the populist and anti-establishment themes that tie together many of Kennedy’s supporters, criticizing Democrats and Republicans and painting politicians as out for themselves. But her appearance left some Kennedy supporters still trying to figure her out.

“I don’t know much about her,” Tammy Markham, a 54-year-old entrepreneur, told ABC News after leaving the event. “So I want to find out more about her. I just know that when he announced that he was going to have her as vice president, I know a lot of us supporters were like, woah, OK, who is this?”

Markham said she was impressed with Shanahan’s speech in Austin, but, she cautioned, “it takes more foundation and rock-solid knowledge for me to be impressed than just the brouhaha.”

A week of damage control

Though they were a united front on Monday, Kennedy and Shanahan seemed confused last week about Kennedy’s abortion stance.

Kennedy told podcast host Sage Steele in an interview released last week that “we should leave it to the woman” to choose to have the procedure, “even if it’s full term.”

When Steele relayed Kennedy’s position in a separate conversation with Shanahan, the running mate appeared visibly surprised.

“My understanding is that he absolutely believes in the limits on abortion,” she told Steele. “And we’ve talked about this. I don’t know where that came from.”

At the same time, Angela King, a Kennedy staffer and anti-abortion activist, aired her dissent to Kennedy’s “full term” comments on social media, an embarrassingly public undressing of the candidate she advises, which led Kennedy to walk back the abortion comments in a lengthy X post Friday night.

“I support the emerging consensus that abortion should be unrestricted up until a certain point,” he wrote, in part. “I believe that point should be when the baby is viable outside the womb.”

Kennedy also found himself last week responding to unearthed comments where he claimed a doctor told him that a parasitic worm was found in his brain more than a decade ago. Also, that he suffered from mercury poisoning — both of which he said gave him “cognitive problems.”

Kennedy assured he has made a full recovery from each issue and even tried to lean into the worm issue, which garnered significant media attention: making a surprise appearance at a Los Angeles comedy show on Friday, he cracked, “My brain worm wrote some jokes for me.” He also joked last week on X that he would “offer to eat 5 more brain worms and still beat President Trump and President Biden in a debate.”

On Friday, the candidate issued an explanation for an admission he made on a podcast that he offered his children fake vaccine cards during the COVID-19 pandemic so they could attend universities, which required the shot without actually getting one (he said his children did not accept his offer since “they didn’t want to lie.”)

“Coercion to force submission to illegal vaccine mandates became the norm during Covid,” Kennedy wrote on X. “As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, ‘One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.’ I acted accordingly.”

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