How Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could be at 1st debate

The first debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump is set to take place on June 27 on CNN. 

The two agreed to bypass presidential faceoffs planned by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which has planned the debates in every election since 1988, over longstanding concerns about the commission’s operations.

The first debate will instead play out in a jam-packed and unsettled political calendar, before either candidate becomes his party’s official nominee at the summer conventions, and months earlier than in past elections.

A second debate is also planned for Sept. 10, hosted by ABC. 

Both debates set these qualification thresholds:

  • Candidate has received at least 15% in four national polls
  • Candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to qualify that person to reach 270 electoral college votes

This leaves the participation of any third party candidates, particularly Kennedy, in limbo. 

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. debate


FILE - Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes a campaign announcement at a press conference on October 9, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

To make the first debate stage, Kennedy has to secure a ballot place in at least a dozen more states and improve his showing in national polls. 

And he has just one month to do it. 

Kennedy doesn’t appear to have met the polling criteria yet, although he has reached 15% or higher in at least two polls meeting CNN's standards, the Associated Press reported. 

The ballot access hurdle is even tougher. 

Independent candidates like Kennedy face laws that vary wildly from state to state but generally require hundreds or thousands of signatures and compliance with strict deadlines. Further complicating matters, some states aren't yet accepting filings from potential independent candidates and won't before the first debate.

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Yet Kennedy is publicly expressing that he’s confident he’ll make the stage. 

"I look forward to holding Presidents Biden and Trump accountable for their records in Atlanta on June 27 to give Americans the debate they deserve," he posted on the X platform.

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.