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Who is Robert Kennedy Jr.? Alabama ‘mystery candidate’ with famous name seeks Senate seat

Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. (www.senate.gov)

Robert Kennedy Jr. has filed the paperwork to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, but it’s most likely not the person you think.

In fact, very little is known about the mysterious candidate who mailed a $3,400 check and his filing papers to the Alabama Democratic Party in Montgomery.

The envelope was received within the party headquarters Wednesday, but Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley said on

Thursday that she didn’t have any information about him.

"All I remember seeing is Mobile County at the top and I looked at the name and thought, ‘boy is this a familiar name in politics," said Worley, indicating that she didn’t examine the check for an address. "We don’t normally have this kind of mystery candidate filing with us. We’ve had people we don’t know who’ve filed (seeking other offices in the past) but normally they stop by the office to give us the paperwork so we can meet them. This one was mailed in."

Worley declined to release any details about the candidate until her office had personally reached out to him. She said that could be by Friday, but admitted that she might not have the details ready for public release until the qualifying period ends on May 17.

The Democratic Party has, instead, touted the Senate candidacy announcement of former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham. Jones’ filing information was received by the Alabama Democratic Party also on Wednesday.

Medical marijuana activist Ron Crumpton has also announced a run for the seat.

No one by the name of Robert Kennedy Jr. has filed a statement of candidacy on the Federal Election Commission’s website. Jones also hasn’t officially filed with the FEC, and he did not return a call to AL.com on Thursday.

In Mobile, the mysterious Robert Kennedy Jr. is unknown.

Mobile County Democratic Party Chairwoman Vivian Beckerle said she has "no knowledge" of the candidate. Longtime Democratic Party activist and Mobile County Public School Board member Robert Battles also said he’s unaware of who might be running.

"I don’t know who he is," said Beckerle. "With everything going on in our national politics, I guess we can say anything is likely to happen."

Dennis Whiteside, godson to environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr. – the son of the late U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy – denounced speculation that the famous Kennedy family was getting involved in the Alabama Senate race.

Whiteside, who runs the Tennessee Riverkeeper and was founder of Black Warrior Riverkeeper – both which are affiliated with 63-year-old Robert Kennedy Jr.’s New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance – suspected that a guns right activist who shares the same name was running for the Senate seat.

But that Robert Kennedy, who lives in Pelham, said he’s not running for Senate.

"I’ve been getting messages and contacts about this and it’s not me," said Kennedy, who is well-known for entering a polling site during the 2014 general election brandishing a holstered pistol. He was later arrested on charges of voting obstruction and possession of firearms at certain plans, both misdemeanors.

"If I was going to run, the second I got to Washington, I’d flip to Republican," said Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the late senator’s son – president of Waterkeeper Alliance – has not publicly signaled interest in Alabama’s Senate race, which has a primary set for Aug. 15 and the general election slated for Dec. 12.

Robert Kennedy Jr. has flirted with political runs before in New York, but has twice previously lived in Alabama. A spokeswoman with Waterkeeper Alliance did not return a call or email for comment.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s clean water group has a strong presence in Alabama thanks to Kennedy’s own ties here.

The first time was in the mid-1970s, while Kennedy was working on a book about a judge who helped end segregation and Jim Crow laws. The second time came in 1980, when he ran the southeast region of Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign from Birmingham.

"I love the state," Kennedy told AL.com in a 2015 article.

Casi Callaway, executive director with Mobile Baykeeper, said that Kennedy currently lives in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, an attorney with Morgan & Morgan law firm in Mobile – also named Robert Kennedy Jr. – did not return a call for comment.

The Senate seat is currently occupied by Republican U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who was selected by former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to fill the remaining Senate term of current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Current Gov. Kay Ivey decided last month to hold a special election to the seat this year.

Richard Fording, a political science professor at the University of Alabama, said whoever runs won’t have much of a chance at winning the Senate seat in the deep red state of Alabama, where Republicans dominate elected office.

But he said that Robert Kennedy Jr. could have an advantage with sharing a famous name.

"There have been cases where people with names of famous people or past incumbents have won elections when they are not the person who (the public) thinks they are," said Fording. "There will be people going to vote who, perhaps, think he’s the son of Robert Kennedy. That could get him votes."

Among the most notable instances of voter name confusion occurred in 1976, when Donald B. Yarborough won a Democratic primary for a Texas Supreme Court seat over the highly respectable Charles Barrow.

At the time, Yarborough was a little known 35-year-old Houston lawyer. But he shared the last name with longtime U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough and two-time Texas gubernatorial candidate Donald H. Yarborough. That was enough to propel him to victory – Yarborough spent around $350 on his campaign and made one speech during the primary. He went on to claim the Supreme Court seat because there was no Republican candidate in the general election.

Having the Kennedy name has worked in elections before. In 1954, two years after future President John F. Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate, a stockroom supervisor named John Francis Kennedy won the Massachusetts treasurer and receiver general race by winning a six-candidate primary before winning the general election.

John Francis Kennedy, who became known as the "Maverick with the Magic Name," spent just $300 during the race.

The environmental activist and nephew of John F. Kennedy spent about a year living in Alabama.