Robert F. Kennedy Jr. convenes hundreds in Iowa to try for access to November ballot


WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. launched a one-day blitz Saturday to gain access to Iowa’s presidential ballot as an independent candidate. Whether he succeeded is an outstanding question.

Kennedy attempted to qualify by holding a convention with at least 500 eligible Iowa voters representing at least 25 counties. Before adjourning the convention Saturday, chair Dave Owen announced that 686 delegates representing more than 35 counties in Iowa were in attendance, figures that could not immediately be verified.

Kennedy and his allies are working to secure a ballot line in all 50 states as they mount a bid that has worried allies of both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump about losing enough votes to swing the election. So far, Utah is the only state that has confirmed he is on the ballot.

A spokesperson with the Iowa secretary of state’s office confirmed before Saturday’s event that the office had been contacted by the Kennedy campaign and responded by providing this year’s publicly available guide for candidates.

As people shuffled into a music venue Saturday, announcements from campaign staffers rang out over the speakers. The audience was told there were 300 people at 2:36 p.m. Central time; 400 about 20 minutes later. At 3:08 p.m., a staffer announced they had exceeded 500 people.

As he has in other campaign events, Kennedy drew longtime fans of his message as well as people who are frustrated by the impending rematch of the 2020 election.

Jeremy Youngers of Waukee, Iowa, said he doesn’t like the Biden of Trump. Youngers has been listening to Kennedy’s podcast and his appearances on other podcasts for years and said he was excited when Kennedy announced his candidacy.

“This is an opportunity that we have to really make a difference,” the 42-year-old said, accompanied by his wife and two children.

Kristy Tierney, 45, drove about 180 miles (280 kilometers) from eastern Iowa to do her part in ensuring that voters have another option on the ballot in November.

“All they need is 500 people to show up here to get Bobby on the ballot,” the Bettendorf resident said. “So I thought, you know, I can drive a couple hours to make that happen.”

Tierney said she’s fed up with the two-party system and voting against candidates, rather than for them.

“I haven’t decided,” she said of her pick for president in November, “but I just think it’s important to have another option.”

Kennedy is the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of Robert F. Kennedy, a former attorney general and U.S. senator. Both his father and uncle were assassinated. He has since built a reputation of his own as an activist, author and lawyer for environmental causes.

Along the way, his activism has veered into conspiracies and contradicted scientific consensus, notably on vaccines. Some members of his family have publicly criticized his views.

Kennedy chose Nicole Shanahan to be his vice presidential pick, both leaving the Democratic Party to launch an independent White House bid.

Kennedy is drawing attention, with the help of his famous name, as an alternative to the major-party candidates who are underwhelming American voters, though no independent candidate has won Electoral College votes in decades. He took the stage to applause and cheers from a crowd on their feet, immediately addressing how his campaign — and the voters in the room supporting him — has been dismissed.

“If you want more of the same, you should vote for them,” Kennedy said of Biden and Trump. “Does anybody here want more of the same?” A chorus of “no” responded.

An anti-vaccine group Kennedy led has a lawsuit pending against a number of news organizations, among them The Associated Press, accusing them of violating antitrust laws by taking action to identify misinformation, including about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines. Kennedy took leave from the group when he announced his run for president but is listed as one of its attorneys in the lawsuit.

Anne Charlson said she has Republican values and Democratic values. She eats organic and wants to choose what goes into her body, so she was “appalled” when the Biden administration talked about vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. She found herself “on the same side as people that wanted freedom for guns,” she said — not something she believes.

“Kennedy is the best of both worlds,” said Charlson, 58, of West Des Moines. “I really believe in what he has to say.”

Republicans and Democrats alike have come together to criticize Kennedy, motivated in part by concerns that his candidacy can act as a spoiler for Biden or Trump.

Iowa Republicans said Friday that Kennedy is a “distraction.”

“He’s peddling his toxic conspiracy theories instead of speaking to the problems facing Americans caused by the Biden Administration,” chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. “Iowans want solutions, not distractions.”


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