Robert F. Kennedy Jr. pledges at Iowa State Fair to restore middle-class prosperity

Des Moines Register Political Soapbox

Chris Higgins
Des Moines Register
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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. hearkened to America's past in his first campaign appearance in Iowa.

The environmental lawyer is mounting a campaign to challenge incumbent President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination. Kennedy is a controversial figure who has promoted conspiracy theories about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kennedy has also represented residents affected by pollution and environmental contamination in high-profile legal cases. He is spending the weekend touring the Iowa State Fair and holding town halls with potential caucus-goers, including in Des Moines and Council Bluffs.

"I'm seeing Americans live at a level of desperation, of depression, that I never thought I'd see in this country," he said at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox in front of a large crowd Saturday afternoon. Marianne Williamson, the other Democratic challenger to Biden, also appeared at the Soapbox on Saturday.

Kennedy, who has never held elected office, is the son of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy. Both were assassinated in the 1960s.

Kennedy draws the support of about 15% of voters in national Democratic primary polls, according to polling analyst FiveThirtyEight. Biden currently polls at 64.3%.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s opposes carbon pipelines in Iowa

The post-war period he grew up in, Kennedy said, was a time of great prosperity for the middle class, where American-made products had powerful worldwide appeal, as evoked history and childhood memories of his father and uncle.

Now, he said, there is a colonial system in Iowa and around the country where the land base is owned by a corporate kleptocracy stripping wealth from the public as people struggle economically.

Candidate tracker:Des Moines Register Political Soapbox to bring 13 presidential hopefuls to the Iowa State Fair

Kennedy presented a centerpiece of his Iowa campaign to the crowd during his speech: his opposition to the proposed carbon capture pipelines that could crisscross Iowa and other Midwestern states.

In his speech, he also lamented the loss of family farms dotting the landscape to large swaths of land owned by big corporations.

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy speaks at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during day three of the Iowa State Fair on Saturday, August 12, 2023 in Des Moines.

Multiple companies have proposed pipelines that would transport liquefied carbon dioxide away from ethanol plants and to other others for burial under the ground. The pipelines have attracted significant controversy in Iowa over eminent domain and environmental concerns.

Former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, his campaign manager, held a map on stage showing where the proposed pipelines would cross through several Iowa counties on the way to Illinois.

Robert Kennedy Jr. looks to appeal to voters outside the Democratic Party

Kennedy is not expected to run as an independent, Kucinich previously told the Register in early August, but his campaign has said that Kennedy would appeal to Republicans and independents.

Kennedy has also emphasized his opposition to the United States' role in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. After his speech, Kennedy told reporters that he would negotiate with Vladimir Putin to end the war.

"That is not about Ukrainian freedom," he said of the American role. "It is about using Ukraine in a proxy war in a geopolitical dispute between two big powers."

He drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and advocacy groups in July over his comments that COVID-19 is “targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people” and spare Chinese people and Ashkenazi Jewish people. Rita Hart, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, on Friday called Kennedy's comments anti-Semitic, which he denied to reporters on Saturday.

Kennedy toured the fair on Saturday, including an interview on WHO Radio and a scheduled appearance at the butter cow.

The Democratic National Committee voted this year to strip the Iowa Caucuses of their first-in-the-nation status. It remains unclear when Iowa Democrats will hold their caucuses and what would happen if they defy the national party.

Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins.

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