Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s unconventional campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has made an unconventional hire in New Hampshire: Aidan Ankarberg, a sitting Republican state representative.
Ankarberg, a GOP state representative first elected in 2020 to the New Hampshire state legislature, is a recent hire for the Kennedy campaign—though his exact role and title are not clear. Prior to his work with the campaign, Ankarberg was best known as a prominent member of the Republican leadership in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. (He served as the deputy majority whip until resigning from that position in March; he remains a member of the state house.) Ankarberg has been endorsed by the NRA and signed a 2022 letter drafted by Arizona state Senator Wendy Rogers, a prominent election denier, demanding “a 50-state audit” of the 2020 presidential election.
The state representative declined to comment via text message and directed The New Republic to a campaign press email address.
Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who is serving as Kennedy’s campaign manager—and mounted two bids for the Democratic presidential nomination himself—told The New Republic that the fact that the campaign has both him and Ankerberg on staff, is indication of the candidate’s appeal. “He’s got the broadest appeal of anybody that’s run in a long time,” said Kucinich.
He insisted, “Mr. Kennedy has crossover appeal. And it’s really powerful. And we had Republicans who are coming over. We have independents. We have libertarians, we have conservatives, we have liberals, every stripe of political following and endeavor is moving toward our campaign.”
Kucinich objected though to questioning about the campaign’s hiring of Ankarberg: “I’m somewhat concerned that you seem to think that we have to vet who works for us in the media.”
But Ray Buckley, the longtime chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, found the arrangement astounding. “Well, I’ve been around primaries for many decades, and never has a Republican state representative worked for a Democratic candidate and never has a Democratic state representative worked for a Republican yet,” he said. In particular, Buckley noted, “This is a paid employee. This isn’t someone who endorsed him. This is off the charts weird.”
Ankarberg’s hire comes as Kennedy’s long shot campaign for the Democratic nomination faces increasing scrutiny over its support from Republicans and Kennedy’s repeated breaks from traditional Democratic positions on a number of issues.
In recent days, Kennedy sat down for an 80-minute interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Twitter. A lengthy interview with NBC News’s Ali Vitali raised eyebrows after the candidate initially expressed his willingness to support an abortion ban after three months and seemed to wrongly imply that a fetus was viable outside the womb after that period. His campaign later walked back those comments. Kennedy expressed his opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act, Joe Biden’s signature social spending and climate change legislation—which passed with unanimous support from congressional Democrats.
Kennedy has also been a vocal opponent of U.S. support for Ukraine as the eastern European country continues its war against Russia and has blamed U.S. policy for Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
The political scion, who has been best known in recent years as a vocal vaccine skeptic, announced his presidential campaign in April, casting himself as a truthteller who couldn’t be silenced. There, he spoke for two hours, at one point quipping: “This is what happens when you censor somebody for 18 years.” Although Kennedy began his career as an environmental activist, lobbying to clean the Hudson River, he has since embraced a number of conspiracy theories: In addition to his skepticism about vaccines, Kennedy has also long maintained that John Kerry actually won the 2004 presidential election, and that Republicans stole that election in the state of Ohio.
Whatever bubble Kennedy enjoyed at the outset of his campaign among Democrats wary of nominating an octogenarian seems to have burst; his polling numbers have dropped since his announcement as Democratic voters have increasingly soured on the longshot candidate. Republicans, on the other hand, have far more favorable views. According to a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, only 28 percent of Democrats had a favorable view of Kennedy, compared to 55 percent of Republicans.
Buckley shared his skepticism about Kennedy’s chances in the Granite State. “He was a curiosity factor when he first showed up,” said the state Democratic chair. “The people hosting these house parties he’s having, have been registered Republicans. I have never seen anything like this. And thankfully, I have so much faith in those who vote in the Democratic primary that I don’t even have to imagine that this will be a factor.”
Kennedy does have a path to success in New Hampshire, which is holding its first-in-the-nation primary in January—but it’s an unusual one that opened up only because of the Democratic National Committee’s attempt to change the order in which states hold nominating contests. Incumbent president Joe Biden is not expected to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in the state—a consequence of the DNC’s attempt to prohibit candidates from campaigning in states that do not abide by their process. By state law, New Hampshire is required to hold the first-in-the-nation primary.
As a result, New Hampshire will go first, but Biden supporters will have to write in his name in order to vote for his nomination if he does not file to run in the Granite State. But the same rules that govern the New Hampshire primary will prevent Ankarberg from proclaiming his support for Kennedy at the ballot box: While New Hampshire allows undeclared voters to vote in the Democratic primary, registered Republicans cannot.