RFK Jr. picks Nicole Shanahan as his vice presidential running mate

Independent presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. on Tuesday chose Oakland as his backdrop to announce attorney and scientist Nicole Shanahan as his vice presidential running mate, touting her expertise with technology, her attitude toward health and the fact that she's a "fierce warrior mom." 

Shanahan, 38, is a California lawyer and philanthropist who’s never held elected office. Shanahan leads Bia-Echo Foundation, an organization she founded to direct money toward issues including women’s reproductive science, criminal justice reform and environmental causes. 

Shanahan divorced Google co-founder Sergey Brin in 2022 and gave Kennedy a $4 million donation helping to bankroll a Super Bowl ad supporting his presidency. 

"And that's why I'm bringing on someone with a deep inside knowledge of how big tech uses AI to manipulate the public," Kennedy said. "I want a partner with strong ideas about how to reverse those dire threats to democracy and our freedoms."

He also called Shanahan, who grew up in Oakland, an athlete, who could "help me inspire Americans back into shape." Shanahan is also a surfer and attended school on a softball scholarship. 

He also said that she is a "daughter of immigrants who overcame every daunting obstacle and went on to achieve the highest levels of the American dream." 

Shanahan's mother is from China and her father is Irish. 

When she spoke, Shanahan said she was at first reluctant to consider Kennedy's offer. 

"As recently as a year ago, I really didn't think much of Bobby Kennedy, because I didn't know much about him all had was a mainstream media narrative that was effectively telling me horrible, disparaging things," she said. 

But a friend pulled her aside and asked her to listen to an interview with him. 

"I did," she said. "And then I listened to another one and then another one. And I recognize that the person who I was seeing in these interviews was the exact opposite of the media slander of his character."

She called Kennedy intelligent, compassionate and reasonable.

"I saw a fellow lawyer who had himself found the truth and was fighting for the environment and for people," Shanahan said. "I discovered a person who speaks out on issues that even though they are critically important to human health and welfare, are consistently ignored by our government. And for the first time in a long time, I felt hope for our democracy again."

In advance of the announcement, Kennedy and his aides had circulated the names of several contenders, including celebrities with no political experience. 

Those names included NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, "Dirty Jobs" star Mike Rowe and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who was a wrestler and actor. Speculation most recently has centered on Nicole Shanahan, a lawyer and philanthropist who bankrolled a Super Bowl ad for Kennedy.

In an interview with KTVU, Kennedy said he chose Oakland to make his announcement as his VP pick has ties to the area and that he has great affection for The Town, as his father campaigned there.

He waxed nostalgic about his dad visiting Taylor Memorial Church and Willie Brown, who became the mayor of San Francisco. He talked about his father meeting with the NAACP and the Black Panther Party, despite police advising he shouldn't go. 

Kennedy made his announcement at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. 

Kennedy was a teenager when his father, known as RFK, was assassinated during his own presidential campaign in 1968. RFK Jr. built a reputation of his own as an activist, author and lawyer who fought for environmental causes such as clean water.

Along the way, his activism has veered into conspiracies and contradicted scientific consensus, most infamously on vaccines. Some members of his family have publicly criticized his views. Dozens of Kennedy family members sent a message when they posed with Biden at a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House in a photo his sister Kerry Kennedy posted to social media.

In recent polls, Kennedy is polling ahead of other third-party candidates, with a favorability rating often higher than President Biden and former President Trump.

Kennedy’s challenge now is trying to get on the ballot. He said it will cost about $50 million to get on the ballot in all 50 states. His campaign says he’s on the ballot in four states so far: Utah, Nevada, Hawaii and New Hampshire.

In California, his supporters have launched the "We the People" party to get on the ticket. To be successful, they must get 75,000 people in the state to re-register with them.

Speakers at the Kennedy event included Angela Stanton-King, a woman pardoned by then-President Donald Trump for her role in a car theft ring that led to a 2004 federal conspiracy conviction and two years in prison; Metta World Peace, the NBA all-star player formerly known as Ron Artest; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford Medical School professor who questioned the efficacy of lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential launch event last year.

His wife, Cheryl Hines, also spoke at the event.

"It's a very exciting day and you will not be disappointed," she said. "One of the things that I love about Bobby. There are a lot, I won't spend the day naming them. But one of the things that I truly respect about him, I have watched him and continued to watch him inspire people of all different to come together for the greater good of this country."

Kennedy’s campaign has spooked Democrats, who are fighting third-party options that could draw support from President Joe Biden and help Trump. As they head into a 2020 rematch, Biden and Trump are broadly unpopular with the U.S. public and will compete for the votes of people who aren’t enthusiastic about either of them.

Without the backing of a party, Kennedy faces an arduous task to get on the ballot, with varying rules across the 50 states. He’s picking a running mate now because about half of the states require him to designate one before he can apply for ballot access.

Jonathan Cooper of the Associated Press contributed to this report. 


The crowd assembles in Oakland at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center to hear RFK Jr.'s announcement. March 26, 2024.