At RFK Jr.’s Atlanta rally, frustrated conservatives seek another choice

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. brought his longshot White House campaign to Georgia on Sunday with a downtown Atlanta event that was part campaign rally and part petition drive to secure the independent candidate a spot on the November ballot.

If Sunday’s event was any indication, the anti-vaccine activist will have a long way to go to gather the thousands of signatures needed. A few hundred curious voters showed up at the Tabernacle to hear Kennedy, augmented by a core of dedicated supporters and volunteers.

But interviews with more than a dozen attendees surfaced a deep sense of frustration with both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump – and a willingness to back Kennedy’s third-party candidacy despite his long odds.

“I voted for Trump in 2020. But Trump didn’t drain the swamp. And I want someone who can,” said Paola Fuenmayor of Cherokee County. “This country is so divided, and right now we need someone who can unite. I think Kennedy can do that.”

Paola Fuenmayor of Cherokee County was one of hundreds who attended Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s rally in Atlanta. AJC/Greg Bluestein

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That sort of optimism aside, Kennedy faces a complex and expensive battle just to get on ballot in Georgia and other competitive states since he shorn himself of his Democratic label late last year and became an independent candidate.

But even with scant support, Kennedy could play the role of a spoiler in a tight race between Biden and the eventual Republican nominee, particularly in a state like Georgia where fewer than 12,000 votes decided the 2020 election.

While senior leaders from both parties have openly worried that Kennedy could woo their most loyal voters, it’s hard to tell where Kennedy’s support in Georgia would originate. The boisterous crowd that packed the Tabernacle was mostly white, and several said in interviews that they voted for Trump in 2020.

“He’s much more to the right than the left in my view,” said Mark DiJohn, a Forsyth County real estate agent who voted for Trump in the last election and said his “dream ticket” would combine Kennedy and Trump.

“I’m not going to vote for Biden ever, but I’d vote for Kennedy all day long.”

Popping ‘champagne’

For all his talk of being an unconventional candidate, Kennedy’s Atlanta rally had the trappings of most political events.

It opened with a glossy video that featured Kennedy’s recent trip to the U.S. border. Aides peddled campaign buttons, hats and T-shirts. A few warmup acts pumped up the audience. A long selfie line snaked around the venue after his stump speech.

A nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, the candidate has a long track record promoting conspiracy theories and spreading falsehoods about vaccines.

He touched on that theme in Atlanta, though spent more of his time focusing on his work as an environmental lawyer who helped clean up pollution in the Chattahoochee River and his effort to shatter the two-party system’s grip on political power.

Like other third-party candidates over the decades, he said Democrats and Republicans are hopelessly mired in bureaucratic morass that defends the status quo. And he derided “culture wars issues” he said are designed to keep voters divided.

“If the king and queen look out at the balustrades and see their subjects fighting each other, they go back to their banquet rooms and pop their champagne because they know as long as their subjects are battling each other no one is coming over the wall.”

Volunteers gather signatures from those who attended Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s rally in Atlanta on Jan. 14, 2024. (Greg Bluestein/

Credit: Greg Bluestein/AJC

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Credit: Greg Bluestein/AJC

His visit was part of a nationwide campaign to gain access to the ballot in pivotal states. Earlier this month, he announced he gathered the 1,000 signatures needed to secure a spot in Utah, the first state to grant Kennedy access to the ballot.

A super PAC has pledged to spend up to $15 million to help him land on the ballot in Georgia and nine other populous states. But he faces an uphill battle navigating each state’s labyrinthine election rules.

In Georgia, independent presidential candidates must gather at least 7,500 signatures from registered voters who were eligible to vote in the last presidential election, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Kennedy staffers in Georgia say they’ve only just begun their work this month and acknowledge they will have to collect far more than 10,000 signatures given the likelihood of fake or ineligible voters.

Even so, many said they were devoted to his campaign.

Melody Euchman of Chamblee said she works one day a week in retail and the other six as a volunteer for Kennedy. She voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but can’t imagine backing anyone but Kennedy in 2024.

“If he’s not on the ballot, I’m not sure who I would vote for,” said Euchman, who said she was drawn to Kennedy because of his skepticism to vaccines. “But Kennedy is going to win. He’s got an army. And I’m a soldier in it.”

Melody Euchman of Chamblee was among hundreds who attended Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s rally in Atlanta on Jan. 14, 2024. AJC/Greg Bluestein

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