Long-shot candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr picks Nicole Shanahan as VP

The US independent candidate introduced lawyer Nicole Shanahan as his running mate at a rally in Oakland, California.

Nicole Shanahan waves behind a podium.
Nicole Shanahan waves from the podium during a campaign event for candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr on March 26 in Oakland, California [Eric Risberg/AP Photo]

Long-shot United States presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr has revealed his running mate to be Nicole Shanahan, a California tech-industry lawyer and philanthropist.

Kennedy – the son of the late Attorney General Robert Kennedy and a member of one of the most prominent political dynasties in the US – unveiled his pick at a rally in Oakland, California, on Tuesday.

“I wanted someone who is battle-tested, able to withstand criticism and the controversy and all the defamations and slanders and perjuries that are thrown against anyone who embarks on a presidential campaign,” he said as he introduced Shanahan.

Kennedy himself faced criticism for his third-party campaign, not to mention his controversial views including anti-vaccine misinformation.

He remains a distant challenger in the 2024 presidential race, in which former President Donald Trump – a Republican – and incumbent President Joe Biden – a Democrat – are expected to go head to head for a second time.

But critics warn Kennedy could be a “spoiler candidate”, drawing votes away from what is anticipated to be a tightly fought Biden-Trump rematch.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month showed Biden with a narrow lead over Trump: One percentage point separated them, with Biden receiving 39 percent support to Trump’s 38 percent.

An estimated 11 percent of respondents said they would opt for another candidate, while 12 percent were weighing whether to vote at all.

Robert F Kennedy speaks into a microphone at a campaign stop.
Independent candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr speaks during a campaign event in November in Columbia, South Carolina [Meg Kinnard/AP]

Who is Nicole Shanahan?

A political newcomer, Shanahan is from the San Francisco Bay Area, a Democratic stronghold in the left-leaning state of California.

The ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, she has been a longtime Democratic donor, even contributing to Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020.

Standing on stage beneath a banner that read, “Declare your independence,” Kennedy also described her as an “avid surfer who attended school on a softball scholarship”.

He also played up her credentials as a lawyer with experience in artificial intelligence and Silicon Valley, a hub for innovation in the US.

“Technology has been a lifelong passion for my future vice president,” he told the crowd in Oakland.

“This is important because I also wanted a vice president who shares my indignation about the participation of big tech as a partner in the censorship and the surveillance and the information warfare that our government is currently waging against the American people.”

Taking the podium herself, Shanahan evoked the struggles of her Bay Area upbringing, calling them “the source of my politics and convictions”.

She described her mother as a Chinese immigrant who worked at a care home and her father as a man who struggled with substance abuse.

“Every time my dad lost his job, my family just couldn’t cover expenses: food, gas, clothing, upkeep,” Shanahan said. “I know a lot of Americans know exactly what that’s like: to be just one misfortune away from disaster. I don’t think we would have made it without food stamps and government help.”

She credited those experiences with informing her decision to join Kennedy on the campaign trail: “It has become part of my determination to do something for my country.”

Shanahan acknowledged as well that she became “very wealthy later on in life”.

“The purpose of wealth is to help those in need,” she said. “And I want to bring that back to politics too. That is the purpose of privilege.”

Super Bowl commercial

Before she was named to the vice presidential slot on Kennedy’s ticket, Shanahan had played a key role in shaping the independent candidate’s messaging.

US media reported in February that Shanahan took a leading role in creating a campaign advertisement that aired during the Super Bowl, the culmination of the US football season.

Buying airtime during the Super Bowl broadcast is notoriously expensive. The football match is one of the most-watched sporting events in the US, and the 2024 broadcast broke records, attracting 123.4 million viewers.

Shanahan told the New York Times that she contributed an estimated $4m for a 30-second advertisement buy during this year’s game, to promote Kennedy’s campaign. She also said she contributed creative advice, helping to shape the advertisement’s message.

The TV spot sparked controversy, as it recreated the look and feel of a 1960 campaign advertisement for Kennedy’s late uncle, President John F Kennedy.

Members of the Kennedy family blasted the ad as an attempt to profit off of the assassinated president’s legacy, prompting the independent candidate to address the criticisms on social media.

“I’m so sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain. The ad was created and aired by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or approval from my campaign,” he wrote, adding: “I love you all.”

Nicole Shanahan and Robert F Kennedy hug their spouses in front of a screen that displays their names.
Jacob Strumwasser, Nicole Shanahan, Robert F Kennedy Jr and Cheryl Hines wave to the crowd in Oakland, California [Eric Risberg/AP]

Picking a vice president

Kennedy’s announcement in Oakland on Tuesday ends ongoing speculation about who he would select as his running mate.

US football star Aaron Rodgers and former Minnesota Governor and wrestler Jesse Ventura had been floated as possible vice president picks.

Shanahan’s selection is likely to give Kennedy’s campaign a fundraising boost over the coming weeks, as the presidential hopefuls barrel towards November’s general elections.

Also on Tuesday, President Biden appeared at a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a rare joint appearance with his vice president, Oakland native Kamala Harris.

But Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has yet to select his running mate, despite intense speculation.

Possibilities include his former rivals for the Republican presidential nomination: Tim Scott, an erstwhile contender in the 2024 race, and Marco Rubio, a US senator from Florida who sparred with Trump in 2016.

Other names generating speculation are US Representative Elise Stefanik and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

One politician decidedly not on the list is Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence. They publicly fell out over the events of January 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Behind the scenes, Trump pressured Pence to scuttle the Electoral College tally that was under way in the Capitol. Rioters were heard to chant the phrase, “Hang Mike Pence,” when he refused.

Earlier this month, in an interview on Fox News, Pence described Trump as a threat to the Republican Party.

“Donald Trump is pursuing and articulating an agenda that is at odds with the conservative agenda that we governed on during our four years,” he said. “That’s why I cannot in good conscience endorse Donald Trump in this campaign.”

Source: Al Jazeera