Robert F. Kennedy Jr. challenges Donald Trump to debate at Libertarian Convention

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has challenged Donald Trump to a head-to-head debate for when both address a Libertarian convention later this month, a move that comes as the presumptive GOP nominee has ramped up both criticism of Kennedy’s independent bid and demands that President Joe Biden meet him on a debate stage.

Arguing that he is “drawing a lot of voters from your former supporters,” Kennedy said to Trump in an open letter posted Tuesday to X that the Libertarian convention provides “perfect neutral territory for you and me to have a debate where you can defend your record for your wavering supporters.”

Trump has been bullish in calling on Biden to debate him ahead of the November general election but has shied away from other rivals’ previous debate entreaties. Trump skipped the 2024 GOP primary debates, saying it was unnecessary because voters know him and his record.

Kennedy, who last year challenged Biden for the Democratic nomination before launching an independent bid, has argued that his relatively strong showing in a few national polls gives his candidacy heft. Polls during the 2016 presidential campaign regularly put libertarian Gary Johnson’s support in the high single or low double digits, but he ultimately received only about 3% of the vote nationwide.

In the open letter to Trump, Kennedy said their debate could “show the American public that at least two of the major candidates aren’t afraid to debate each other.” Kennedy wrote that convention organizers “are game for us to use our time there to bring the American people the debate they deserve!”

Spokespeople for the Trump campaign and the Libertarian Party did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Kennedy’s debate challenge.

Kennedy and Trump are scheduled to appear on separate days before attendees at the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, D.C. later this month. Both candidates have been courting support from libertarian-leaning voters, although Kennedy — who is working to appear on all 50 ballots, a state-by-state petition process — has ruled out officially running as a Libertarian candidate.

In recent weeks, Trump’s campaign has ramped up its attacks against Kennedy, who has appealed to disaffected Democrats and Republicans looking for an alternative to the pending rematch of the 2020 election.

Last month, Trump wrote on Truth Social that “RFK Jr. is a Democrat ‘Plant,’ a Radical Left Liberal who’s been put in place in order to help Crooked Joe Biden.” MAGA Inc., a super PAC supporting Trump’s candidacy, has also issued its own critical posts and created an anti-Kennedy website.

Leaving court one day last week after his hush money trial, Trump told reporters asking about Kennedy’s campaign that he didn’t feel threatened by it, pointing to polling.

“He might hurt me, I don’t know. But he has very low numbers, certainly not numbers that he can debate with, and he’s got to get his numbers up a lot higher before he’s credible,” Trump said. “The numbers that he’s taking away, they say will be against Biden. I don’t know, it could be a little bit against me, but I don’t see him as a factor.”

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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Michelle L. Price and Ruth Brown in New York and Linley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.

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