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RFK Jr. fails to qualify for first presidential debate with Trump, Biden

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. hits the campaign trail to celebrate his launch of an independent run for president while visiting supporters at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has failed to qualify for next week’s debate between President Biden and former President Trump, setting the stage for the two major party candidates to clash in their first face-to-face confrontation of the 2024 campaign.

The independent candidate fell short of the threshold set by CNN of at least 15% support in four recent national opinion polls.

RFK Jr. also hasn’t secured ballot spots in enough states to win a majority of 270 electoral votes, the second condition laid out by the network for next Thursday’s televised debate. So far, he’s only on the ballot in 10 states.

The decision sets the stage for the much-anticipated first debate of the Biden-Trump White House rematch on next Thursday, June 27 at 9 pm.

The debate, which will be moderated by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, will run for 90 minute. Both campaigns have agreed to the network’s ground rules.

There will be no live audience, unlike most recent presidential debates. The candidates’ microphones will be muted except when it’s their turn to speak.

The moderators have been told to “use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilized discussion,” per the rules.

The rules were included at the request of Biden campaign to combat Trump’s penchant for continually interrupting his debate opponents and moderators in past debates with Biden four years ago and Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.

This year’s confrontation is by far the earliest any general election debate has ever been held. All previous debates were held after Labor Day during the traditional fall campaign season.

second debate is expected to be held Sept. 10 on ABC.

The two campaigns reached a lightning-quick agreement last month to set the debate, largely because both teams believe they will benefit from it.

Trump’s team had been saying for months that Biden was too old to debate and that the former president would be the victor in a side-by-side showcase.

But Biden’s campaign believes Trump will turn off American voters with his mercurial and combative personality.

The incumbent is also anxious to use the debate to jumpstart his effort to bring home the Democratic base of voters, many of whom have yet to get behind another Biden term.

There is likely to be wide viewership for the first significant milestone in the rematch between the two presumptive major party nominees.

The first Biden-Trump debate in 2020 drew 73 million viewers, and a large majority said Biden won over an angry and aggressive Trump.

Incumbent presidents have traditionally performed poorly in their first re-election debates, although the dynamic could be different this year since the same candidates are competing for the first time in recent memory.

Some observers predict a significantly lower audience this time because so many voters have yet to focus on the contest.

A recent Quinnipiac survey said 72% of Americans plan to watch at least some of the debate.

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