February 21, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he has filed to run as a 2024 presidential candidate in Utah after meeting the 1,000-signature requirement needed to appear on the ballot, marking the first state where the independent candidate and prominent anti-vaccine activist has qualified.

Flanked by volunteers at a campaign event Wednesday in Salt Lake City, Kennedy announced he had filed for candidacy in the state that morning.

Utah is the first state where his campaign submitted signatures and qualified for ballot access, campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear said. She expects Arizona may be next.

Kennedy criticized the many barriers to ballot access for candidates not backed by a major political party, saying the requirements in some states make it almost impossible to challenge the “chokehold” that Republicans and Democrats have over U.S. politics.

“This process is forcing us to build our army now,” he said. “And we’re going to have a better army on the street and in the trenches in November 2024.”

A scion of one of the nation’s most famous Democratic dynasties, the longtime environmental lawyer veered from the party last fall and announced his independent bid for the White House. He is a son of former senator and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and a nephew of Democratic President John F. Kennedy.

The candidate rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic for his embrace of public health conspiracy theories and has a loyal following of people who reject the scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and effective.

His success at gaining ballot access in Utah reignites questions of whether the independent could play spoiler for the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees. While it’s unlikely that an independent or a third-party candidate would win the presidency, they could siphon support from the major candidates in a way that tips the scales.

Allies of both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the likely nominees for their respective parties, have questioned whether Kennedy could be a spoiler for their candidate. Both Biden, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican, are unpopular among voters, increasing the likelihood that third-party support could play a deciding role in 2024.

In an increasingly polarized political climate, Kennedy is playing the middle, aligning with influential people on the far right while touting his background as an environmentalist.

It’s unclear in how many states he will qualify for ballot access. Each state sets its own requirements, and the process for collecting signatures and navigating legal hurdles can be costly for candidates not backed by the major parties.

American Values 2024, a super PAC supporting Kennedy, has pledged to spend up to $15 million to help him gain ballot access in pivotal states. His success in Utah was made possible by a legal victory in the lawsuit he and others filed last month to push back the state’s candidate filing deadline.

Kennedy’s anti-vaccine organization 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.

The AP and the other news companies have asked a court to dismiss the lawsuit.