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Who Is Nicole Shanahan, RFK Jr.’s Pick for Vice President?

The first major running mate announcement of the 2024 presidential election cycle came much earlier than usual this week, as White House hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. held an Oakland rally to make the big announcement, concluding weeks of speculation by introducing the young political neophyte to the nation and revealing that he may just have found the ideal addition to his long-shot ticket.

Nicole Shanahan — criminal justice attorney, Silicon Valley philanthropist, possible billionaire divorcée — is a native of Oakland who may just have the ideal rags-to-riches backstory for a political newcomer. Shanahan has spoken about growing up with a family that relied on food benefits and being raised by a schizophrenic father who had lifelong addiction issues. On Tuesday, she told the crowd of her days as an attorney, after completing a law degree a decade ago at Santa Clara University School of Law, working with artificial intelligence to push for criminal justice reform and end the school-to-prison pipeline for Black men.

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Unmentioned at Tuesday’s event were the details of Shanahan’s rumor-plagued personal life, which no doubt played a role in her rise to national attention and becoming a vice presidential candidate. Her second marriage in 2018 was to one of the world’s richest men, Google co-founder Sergey Brin; the four-year union with the tech titan, during which the couple had a daughter, ended with reports of an affair between her and the world’s (sometimes) richest man, Elon Musk, a longtime friend of Brin — both Musk and Shanahan have denied that this alleged tryst ever occurred.

Shanahan made a case for herself to RFK Jr. loyalists via talking points near and dear to the candidate: the chronic disease epidemic; the “corporate capture of our regulatory agencies”; the nation’s children, who she says are “not well” after “one shot on top of another shot,” a light reference to the MMR vaccine’s bogus link to autism, a false theory that was built on a lie and which her running mate has repeated for years.

Little was said that detailed Shanahan’s impressive amount of experience, which includes seats on multiple boards of directors, launching legal tech company ClearAccessIP and the private foundation Bia-Echo, and her growing list of strategic philanthropic gifts. Despite all of this before the age of 40, she is primarily discussed in regard to the reason for and terms of her divorce, with some speculating that the case settled with her walking away with $1 billion. Such deep pockets have led to criticism of Shanahan as a potential — now-confirmed — VP pick, particularly after she bankrolled RFK’s Super Bowl ad. The ad, which mirrored a John F. Kennedy campaign spot from decades ago, and which Shanahan said that she worked on, was poo-pooed by other members of the Kennedy family.

Speaking to supporters as he introduced Shanahan, RKF outlined why the 38-year-old, who has never held public office, didn’t quite make the case for his pick becoming the next vice president. But he did tell the enthusiastic-if–modest-in-size crowd how Shanahan is great for his campaign — which is currently facing the arduous task of ensuring the independent’s name appears on November’s ballots in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

In fact, it’s precisely this tough task that led to Shanahan’s months-early addition to the ticket in the first place. For independent candidates, many U.S. states’ election rules require that a running mate be listed as the necessary ballot signatures are collected. Ahead of Tuesday’s event, the campaign stated that, to date, it has exceeded all of the ballot access benchmarks it had set for itself.

Shanahan’s addition to the ticket might be the moment that redirects RFK’s campaign; this is clearly the hope of both candidate and campaign, as she is on the young side of 40, that she will bring in votes from the youth “who have lost faith in their future,” as the candidate said Tuesday, for one half of a planned coalition the he says will also include America’s working class. Boasting a bank account that could fill his campaign’s coffers for months (recall that a VP pick may pump as much cash into a campaign as they like), a seat at the Big Tech table that comes with skepticism about the industry’s integrity, and practices that appeal to Biden-friendly youth and Trump-supporting working class.

And maybe most important of all: Shanahan has the oh-so-important quality of any VP: an unflinching loyalty to their boss. That was made clear during her rally speech, when she officially broke up with the Democrats, after donating for years to campaigns; she even claimed a “lifelong” affiliation with the party in February while speaking with Newsweek. After taking both major parties to task, the VP candidate made the case on Tuesday for an Independent movement in America.

“If you ever considered an independent ticket … listen to Bobby Kennedy in his own words,” she said. “Take a look at his vision for America. It’s a vision that I share too, as I spend the next seven months of my life getting him on each and every ballot in this country.”

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