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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Picks Wealthy Silicon Valley Attorney Nicole Shanahan as His Running Mate

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Updated: | Originally published:

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has picked wealthy Silicon Valley lawyer Nicole Shanahan as his running mate, he announced Tuesday.

“I'm bringing on someone with deep inside knowledge of how big tech uses AI to manipulate the public,” Kennedy said at a rally in Oakland, where Shanahan grew up. “I want a partner with strong ideas about how to reverse those dire threats to democracy and our freedoms.” 

Kennedy’s running mate choice comes at a pivotal point in his campaign as he seeks to secure a place on the ballot nationwide and continue financing his long-shot bid for the White House. In recent weeks he had floated attention-grabbing potential running mates in NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe, and former WWE wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. He opted to go with Shanahan, who runs a private foundation focused on chronic diseases, reproductive rights, criminal justice, and the environment, and was once married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

“The purpose of wealth is to help those in need,” said Shanahan, who was raised on welfare and food stamps in a single-parent household. “I want to bring that back to politics too. That is the purpose of privilege."

Shanahan, 38, has no political experience but offers substantial financial firepower and valuable connections in the tech industry. In February, she gave $4 million to a Kennedy-aligned Super PAC for a controversial 30-second Super Bowl ad in support of Kennedy’s candidacy. The ad, which she helped produce, was criticized by several members of Kennedy’s family for repurposing a 1960 campaign ad for his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy. Shanahan has also previously donated to Democratic candidates and causes, including $25,000 to President Joe Biden’s fundraising committee in 2020, $19,400 to the Democratic National Committee that same year, and to the past campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Marianne Williamson, and Pete Buttigieg. Shanahan said Tuesday that she is leaving the Democratic Party.

Kennedy campaign staffers told TIME ahead of his vice presidential announcement that he was looking to pick someone who will represent the future, and is aware of the technical challenges facing the country, including the rise of artificial intelligence. “I was most importantly looking for a partner who is a young person,” Kennedy, 70, said. “There's a growing number of millennials and Gen Z Americans who have lost faith in their future and lost their pride in our country.”

Shanahan has taken a particular interest in regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration, arguing that soil health and gut biome are critical to increasing reproductive longevity. She said there is a “crisis of reproductive health”and chronic disease that she identified as being caused by three issues: “toxic substances in our environment, “electromagnetic pollution,” and “our medications.” 

“Chronic disease, addiction, poverty, depression—this is where Americans are hurting the most,” Shanahan said. “It’s time for politicians to listen.”

Kennedy praised his vice presidential pick for her experience using AI to “calculate health consequences of toxins” in soil, air, water and food, and praised Shanahan for being an athlete that shares his passion for “wholesome healthy foods” and inspiring Americans to get back in shape.

Most polls show Kennedy tracking in the double digits, better than any independent candidate since Ross Perot in 1992, with his longshot bid attracting some voters disaffected by the two major parties. A former Democrat turned independent candidate, Kennedy, 70, has nurtured an eclectic coalition of rightwing fans, New Age influencers, anti-vaccine activists, and Silicon Valley pundits. Political analysts warn that his candidacy could cause some headaches for Democrats and Republicans by taking votes in critical states.

A spokesman for the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. criticized Kennedy and his VP pick, labeling the independent candidate as a “far-left radical” and saying “it’s no surprise he would pick a Biden donor leftist as his running mate.”

Kennedy’s vice president announcement comes amid a months-long push to get him on the ballot in all 50 states, most of which require independent candidates to have a running mate. Currently, he has only secured access to the ballot in Utah—potentially limiting his reach unless he swiftly navigates the costly complex ballot access requirements in other states. His campaign estimates the effort will cost more than $15 million and will require gathering more than 900,000 signatures nationwide.

Kennedy had more than $4.8 million left in his campaign account as of the end of January, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. American Values 2024, the super PAC backing Kennedy, recently told TIME it has gathered “more than the required number of signatures for RFK Jr.'s ballot access in Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and South Carolina.”

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Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com