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With VP Pick, RFK Jr. Is Gunning for the Democrats

Nicole Shanahan appeals to the disaffected, West Coast–style leftist voters who feel lost in the Democratic Party.

Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Announces His Running Mate

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an independent candidate for the presidency, announced Tuesday that he had selected Nicole Shanahan as his running mate. Kennedy introduced the 38-year-old, who has no political experience, at an event in Oakland, California, her native city.

In her first speech as a vice-presidential candidate, Shanahan praised Kennedy’s anti-war commitments, criticized both major parties for offering “vague promises that never amount to real change,” and listed the foci of Kennedy’s campaign to which she was most attracted after a friend encouraged her to watch “just one” interview with Kennedy: chronic disease issues, electromagnetic pollution, and non-healing medications. 


“I wanted a partner who is a gifted administrator, but also possesses the gift of curiosity, an open, inquiring mind, and the confidence to change even her strongest opinions in the face of contrary evidence,” Kennedy told the crowd in his introduction. “I wanted someone with a spiritual dimension and compassion and idealism and, above all, a deep love of the United States of America.”

Shanahan’s career is a Bay-Area success story. In 2013, while still studying at the Santa Clara University School of Law, she started an IP management company called ClearAccessIP, which was bought in 2020 by patent hawk Erich Spangenberg’s finance tech company, IPwe. That same year, she founded a philanthropic outfit called the Bia-Echo Foundation, which seeks to harness the “creative spirit and life force behind our human capacity.” In 2022, the foundation reported over $25 million in total assets.

The invited speakers at the announcement event reflected the colorful and sometimes contradictory coalition that has formed around Kennedy. The candidate’s speech was preceded by a land acknowledgement from the chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohione Tribe of the San Francisco Bay. This solemn affair was followed by more lively addresses from Del Bigtree, the campaign’s communications director, Kelly Ryerson, the founder of the public awareness group Glyphosate Facts, Jay Bhattacharya, the anti-lockdown Stanford health policy professor, Chris Clem, the former deputy chief patrol agent with Customs and Border Protection, Calley Means, an author and cofounder of the Austin-based tech payment company TrueMed, and the former Lakers forward Metta World Peace, born Ronald William Artest Jr.

In her own address, Shanahan mentioned two experiences that formed her political consciousness while she was in high school. In her junior year, she spent time with families recovering from the civil war in El Salvador that ended in 1992; and, at graduation, she led a walkout protesting the American invasion of Iraq.

Most of the coverage surrounding Shanahan’s selection revolves around Kennedy’s quest to get on the ballot in all 50 states, which requires building a ground game from scratch—an expensive project from which the major party candidates are exempt. To that end, the Kennedy campaign, which reported a little over $5.1 million on hand in a March FEC filing, could see Shanahan as a real asset. In the lead up to Shanahan’s divorce from the Russian émigré and Google cofounder Sergey Brin, in July 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that Shanahan sought over $1 billion in the proceedings. 


That cash is already working for Kennedy. In February, the New York Times reported that it was Shanahan who coughed up $4 million to fund the nostalgic Super Bowl ad that was sponsored by the pro-Kennedy Super PAC American Values 2024.

Perhaps the most comprehensive—and revelatory—coverage of Shanahan’s comings and goings can be found not in the hard news dailies but in People, which offered coverage in July 2023 of Shanahan’s barefoot “love” ceremony with 39-year-old Jacob Strumwasser, to whom she committed herself in part because of his “love of nature.”

Shanahan’s campaign donation history reflects this crunchy “Left Coast” sensibility. During the 2020 election, Shanahan donated $2,800 to Marianne Williamson, $2,800 to Pete Buttigieg, and $25,000 to the Biden Victory Fund, a joint fundraising operation of the Biden campaign, the DNC, and state Democratic parties. 

The Williamson-style spiritual leftism to which Shanahan appears to adhere may have appealed to Kennedy’s sensibilities: her selection, along with the pride of place offered to the Muwekma Ohione during her announcement event and her recent political alliances, has certainly given his campaign an overtly left flavor. This could be a cause of worry for the Biden campaign; while some polls have shown the Kennedy run pulling more votes from the former President Donald Trump than from Biden, Shanahan shifts the ticket to appeal directly to disaffected Democratic voters.

“I am leaving the Democratic Party,” Shanahan said in her acceptance speech. “I do believe they’ve lost their way and their leadership.”

In his introduction, Kennedy highlighted Shanahan’s appeal to a historically blue constituency, young voters. “I want Nicole to be a champion to the growing number of millennials and Gen Z Americans who have lost faith in their future and lost their pride in our country,” he said.