WEST DES MOINES — Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said he met the requirements to appear on Iowa’s general election ballot in November following a “convention” he held in West Des Moines Saturday.

“Thank you for getting us on the ballot here in Iowa,” he told a crowd that was several hundred people strong.

Kennedy is using a provision of Iowa law that allows independent presidential candidates to bypass the state’s standard requirement of 3,500 signatures by hosting a convention and identifying 500 eligible “electors” from at least 25 counties.

He will need to submit paperwork to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, which will still need to be reviewed.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and a leader of the anti-vaccine movement known for trafficking in conspiracy theories, is attempting to get onto the ballot in all 50 states. Kennedy told the Des Moines Register in an interview that he’s confident he will make it onto every state’s ballot by July.

It’s a complicated and expensive endeavor, particularly for third party candidates who don’t have the sprawling resources of the two major parties.

According to his campaign, Kennedy has enough signatures to appear on the ballot in Utah, Idaho, Hawaii, Nebraska and New Hampshire, as well as the battleground states of Nevada and North Carolina. But only Utah has officially confirmed his place on the ballot so far.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. uses ‘convention’ method to try to get on Iowa ballot

In Iowa, presidential candidates typically get onto the ballot by collecting 3,500 signatures, including at least 100 signatures in each of 19 counties.

But Iowa law allows for independent candidates to collect fewer signatures by filing to appear on the presidential ballot through a convention process. Through that process, Kennedy must gain the signatures of 500 eligible electors representing at least 25 counties. Those electors must be at least 18 years old, residents of Iowa and U.S. citizens.

At Saturday’s event, the group of attendees also had to elect a convention chair and secretary, as well as a central committee.

And the required certificate of nomination also requires the candidate to lay out a process to fill ballot vacancies should the candidate withdraw or otherwise be removed from the ballot.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s campaign used the same pathway to the ballot in 2012, arguing that it held a “caucus” at the Iowa State Fair that year where they persuaded fairgoers to sign up as electors. That effort wound its way through the state objections board, which scrutinizes candidate petitions, as well as the courts before it was ultimately approved and he appeared on the ballot.

Some RFK Jr. rally attendees say they want someone other than Donald Trump, Joe Biden

Kennedy’s event Saturday drew hundreds of people, including many who said they weren’t fans of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump or Democratic President Joe Biden.

“We’ve kind of been looking at him for a while,” said Tod Holder, a 44-year-old Pleasantville resident who attended the event with his wife Tonya. “The other two have already had their chance. Let’s give it to somebody else.”

He said he voted for Trump in 2016 but didn’t vote for president in 2020.

Tonya Holder, also 44, said she currently plans to support Democratic President Joe Biden’s re-election, but she believes that Americans should have more than two options for president.

“Everything going on with Trump is pretty volatile, so we’ve definitely got to stay away from that, I feel like,” she said. “I’m a Biden supporter. But I am curious about Kennedy. I’ve always had an open mind. I was taught to have an open mind. That’s how I grew up.”

The pair heard about the event on Facebook and both said they planned to sign Kennedy’s petition to appear on the ballot.

Could Kennedy act as a ‘spoiler’ candidate?

Recent national polling of the race that includes third-party candidates shows Kennedy earning anywhere from 2% to 14% of the vote and averaging about 9%.

And according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll of seven battleground states, Kennedy earns an average of 11%, getting 8% in Georgia and doing as well as 15% in Nevada.

In both the national and battleground polls, Kennedy performs substantially better than Cornell West and Jill Stein, who are also running as third-party candidates.

It represents significant support for an independent presidential candidate, though it’s far from enough to get him elected president.

Political observers are divided on what role Kennedy may ultimately have on the outcome of the presidential contest. But many Democrats increasingly view him as a “spoiler” candidate with the potential to harm Biden’s candidacy against Trump — particularly in a contest that is expected to hinge on a handful of battleground states with exceedingly close outcomes.

The New York Times reported April 10 that Trump’s allies are working to boost Kennedy and other independent presidential candidates in those battleground states by emphasizing qualities that could appeal to Democrats or more liberal swing voters.

“I do believe that RFK Jr. will do very well, and I do believe he’s going to take a lot of votes away from crooked Joe Biden,” Trump said in a video released by his campaign April 11.

The Kennedy campaign recently fired a “ballot access consultant” for saying in a presentation that her priority for the 2024 election is defeating Biden, not necessarily getting Kennedy elected.

“The Kennedy voter and the Trump voter, the enemy, our mutual enemy is Biden,” the consultant, Rita Palma, said in a video posted online. “Whether you support Bobby or Trump, we all oppose Biden.”

Kennedy distanced himself from Palma in an interview with the Register, reiterating that she had been fired.

“If you have a mainstream media that wants to interview everybody on our field staff about their positions on various issues or wants to catch them making a statement that is not consistent with what we believe in the campaign, they’re going to be able to do that,” he said, although the video was not the result of a media interview.

National Democrats are taking the threat Kennedy’s campaign poses seriously, hiring veteran staffers like Lis Smith, who helped oversee Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, to counter the effects of potential spoiler candidates, NBC News reported. The Democratic National Committee has also hired a team of attorneys, led by Dana Remus, Biden’s former White House counsel, to monitor Kennedy’s efforts to get his name on ballots of key battleground states.

“Every day we get more proof that a vote for RFK Jr. is a vote for Trump,” DNC spokesperson Matt Corridoni said in a statement Thursday.

Kennedy said the Democrats were being hypocritical by trying to keep him off the ballot.

“The Democratic Party is supposed to be about exemplifying democracy and being a template for democracy around the world,” he told the Register. “And if you ask them, high-level Democratic officials, ‘Why are you doing this?’ They’ll say, ‘Well, we have to do this because Trump poses a huge threat to democracy.’ Well, it’s kind of an irony there. They are essentially arguing we have to subvert democracy in order to save it.”

The Republican Party of Iowa has also been critical of Kennedy, with party chair Jeff Kaufmann saying in a statement that his appearance in the state is “a distraction.”

“Robert F Kennedy Jr. is a distraction. He’s peddling his toxic conspiracy theories instead of speaking to the problems facing Americans caused by the Biden administration,” Kaufmann said in the statement. “Iowans want solutions, not distractions. President Trump will deliver on his promises to secure the border, fix the economy, and restore America’s standing across the globe.”

Kennedy has campaigned in Iowa only briefly. He attended the Iowa State Fair and a pair of meet-and-greets in August 2023.

At the event Saturday, he railed against the two-party system, presidential polling and other issues like the threat of processed foods. He argued he is the only person capable of providing “complete change” to the country.

“If you want more of the same, you should vote for Trump or Biden,” he said to cheers.

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register. She is also covering the 2024 presidential race for USA TODAY as a senior national campaign correspondent. Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: RFK Jr. holds Iowa convention to try to get on presidential ballot

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