Robert F. Kennedy Jr. fails to qualify for CNN's debate. It'll be a showdown between Biden and Trump

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has failed to qualify for next week's debate in Atlanta, according to host network CNN, falling shy of benchmarks both for state ballot qualification and necessary polling.

The missed markers mean that the June 27 showdown will be solely between Democratic President Joe Biden and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. That denies Kennedy a singular opportunity to stand alongside the leading candidates in an attempt to lend legitimacy to his longshot bid and convince potential supporters that he has a shot at winning.

In a statement Thursday, Kennedy called his exclusion from the debate “undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly."

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns fear that Kennedy could play spoiler in what's anticipated to be a close general election.

According to the criteria set out by CNN, candidates would be invited to participate in the debate if they had secured a place on the ballot in states totaling at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, the minimum needed to win the presidency.

Biden and Trump have easily cleared the polling threshold but won’t be certified for the ballot until their parties formally nominate them later this summer. Both have secured enough delegates to lock in their nominations.

Kennedy’s campaign says he has satisfied the requirements to appear on the ballot in 22 states, with a combined 310 electoral votes, though not all have affirmed his name will be listed. California, the largest prize on the electoral map with 54 votes, will not certify any candidates until Aug. 29.

Candidates were also required to reach a polling threshold of 15% in four reliable national polls by June 20, another metric CNN said Kennedy failed to meet. According to the network, Kennedy has received at least 15% in three qualifying polls so far and is currently on the ballot in six states, making him currently eligible for 89 Electoral College votes.

Last month, Kennedy filed an election complaint alleging CNN is colluding with Biden and Trump to exclude him from the June 27 debate, alleging that the participation requirements were designed to ensure only Biden and Trump would qualify and claiming that he is being held to a higher standard.

CNN has said the complaint is without merit. Kennedy's campaign did not immediately respond to a message Thursday seeking comment on CNN's announcement and asking if he planned to take any further action about his exclusion.

Last month, Biden and Trump agreed to the CNN debate and a second on Sept. 10 hosted by ABC, bypassing the nonpartisan commission that has organized debates for nearly four decades.

After winning a coin toss, Biden's campaign chose the right podium position, meaning that he will be on the right side of viewers' screens, with Trump on the left, according to CNN. Trump's campaign then opted to deliver his closing statement after Biden.

Both campaigns have agreed to appear at podiums, and microphones will be muted except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak.

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

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press