WARREN, Mich. — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. once again teased a potential break from the Democratic Party at a rally Thursday night, as his Michigan-based supporters in attendance expressed love for former President Donald Trump and disdain for President Joe Biden.
A man at the packed rally yelled through the crowd, “Are you planning on running as a Democrat? Please say no.”
“You want the answer to that question, you can come to Philadelphia on Monday,” Kennedy responded. The Democratic primary challenger has been taking questions at events about a possible independent campaign, and a Kennedy video teasing a big announcement in Philadelphia criticized “the leadership of both political parties.”
Conversations with Kennedy supporters at Thursday’s event — and recent public polling results — demonstrate one reason why he might leave the Democratic primary: The people gravitating to him tend to think more highly of Trump than Biden, which could scramble the effect of a potential independent campaign.
“I vote for the person, I don’t vote for the party,” said Robert Genord, a two-time Trump voter from Roseville, Michigan who’s supporting Kennedy in 2024.
When asked for his thoughts on Biden, the 69-year-old Michigander called the commander-in-chief an embarrassment to the nation.
“It’s like a circus when he comes on [television]. It’s embarrassing, that’s embarrassing to the whole United States that he’s our leader,” Genord said.
Tricia Leannais, a Biden voter in 2020 now supporting Kennedy, said she regrets her vote in the last general election.
“I did vote for Biden [and I] kicked myself because when Afghanistan happened, I knew something was wrong,” Leannais said. “There’s no way that could have been an accident,” she added, implying the U.S. withdrawal, which saw the Taliban retake control of the country and American troops die in an attack on the evacuation operation, went according to some unknown plan.
Just as common as contempt for Biden was admiration for Trump among the Kennedy supporters.
“Donald Trump, he is still our president,” said Janice Paluch from Detroit, a Trump supporter who’s Kennedy-curious. Paluch thinks Trump and Kennedy have a close personal relationship, which draws her toward Kennedy. “They’re a lot closer than you think they are. And that’s true.”
Large numbers of voters are unhappy with the prospect of picking between Biden and Trump again in 2024, and the resulting interest in potential third-party candidates has come with debate over which major party has the most to lose. Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and the third-party candidates in 2016 are all examples of outside candidacies with outsized impacts in recent presidential elections.
Former Green Party candidate Cornel West announced Thursday that he would be dropping from the party and running as an independent. “Our Constitution provides for independent candidates to gain ballot access in all states, and I have begun seeking ballot access as an independent, unaffiliated with any political party,” West said in a statement announcing his decision.
Recent favorability polling indicates Kennedy, 69, is more attractive to Republicans. A Quinnipiac poll from September showed that 48% of Republicans had a favorable view of Kennedy, while only 18% of Democrats viewed him favorably. Meanwhile, more than half of Democrats had unfavorable views of Kennedy.
And a The Economist/YouGov poll conducted in the last week of September and the first week of October showed that 60% of self-identified conservative voters had a very or somewhat favorable view of Kennedy, compared to 29% of self-identified liberal voters. A majority of liberals had unfavorable views of him.
Like conservative voters, some conservative groups seem to be warming to Kennedy. On Friday afternoon, the Conservative Political Action Conference announced Kennedy is slated to speak at its investor summit in late October, as is GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.
The Kennedy campaign has not said whether he will switch to run as an independent, but a super PAC supporting him, American Values 2024, recently conducted and publicly released a poll showing how Kennedy would perform in “a three-way race” against Biden and Trump.
Leannais, the Michigan voter who supported Biden in 2020 but regrets it, and her sister Tracy O’Connor, who supported Trump in 2016, traveled together from Detroit to see Kennedy in Warren on Thursday night. When NBC News asked who they would back for president between Biden and Trump if Kennedy was not an option, the sisters exclaimed in unison: “Trump!”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com