FREEPORT — Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. made a campaign stop in Maine Tuesday to talk to volunteers and supporters about food, farming and issues facing the food system in Maine and around the nation.

Kennedy is running as an independent in a race expected to feature a rematch of incumbent Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump as the front-runners.

Kennedy’s visit to the Old Town Meeting Place at the Hilton Garden Inn included a discussion with several Maine farmers who talked about some of their challenges, including contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, on farms.

Ron and Andrea Wappler, owners of Birch Star Farm in Pownal, speak with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. before a crowd of supporters gathered Tuesday at the Old Town Meeting Place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport. Rachel Ohm/Staff Writer

The space, which has a capacity of around 150, was packed.

ADDRESSING MAINE PROBLEMS

Katia and Brendan Holmes, who run Misty Brook Farm in Albion, were among the farmers who met with Kennedy and spoke to the crowd.

They spoke of their own experience having nearly lost their farm after having unknowingly given PFAS-contaminated feed to their dairy cows. They hope that more small farms like theirs can be seen as sustainable ways to feed America.

“What we saw during COVID was that very quickly the supermarket shelves were empty,” Brendan Holmes said. “Since we are not part of that industrial food chain it didn’t really affect us. We can basically process all our own food and deliver it.”

Andrea and Ron Wappler, owners of Birch Star Farm in Pownal, also had time on stage with Kennedy. Andrea Wappler said she is a big supporter of Kennedy’s policy to create “healing farms” around the country to treat addiction and depression.

Kennedy supporter Michele Rollins of Yarmouth poses for a photo with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after Kennedy made a campaign stop in Freeport Tuesday. Rachel Ohm/Staff Writer

An independent voter, she said after the event that she “100%” plans to vote for Kennedy although she voted for Biden in the last election. “I don’t think he has the mental capability to handle the position,” Wappler said of President Biden, adding that she also disagrees with some of his foreign policy positions, such as the response to the war in Ukraine.

The audience also had a chance to ask Kennedy questions Tuesday. One woman asked what can be done to lower the cost of healthy food, to which Kennedy said his priority instead would be on ensuring that farmers are well-paid and that their farms are sustainable. Too often cheap food means that people are paying for it with negative health impacts, which is expensive in a different way, he said.

“My job would not be to make food cheaper,” Kennedy said. “My job would be to pay farmers to stay in business.”

SIGNATURES GATHERED 

Tuesday was Kennedy’s second visit to Maine in recent months; he also appeared at the Ocean Gateway in Portland for a campaign rally in November.

He hasn’t yet qualified for the ballot in Maine, but is on the ballot in 26 other states so far.

Laura Morris, volunteer state lead for the campaign, said the campaign has gathered a little under 7,000 signatures so far in Maine, which exceeds the 4,000 to 5,000 needed to qualify for the ballot. Morris said the campaign is in the process of turning the signatures in to municipalities, which must be done by July 25.

The Maine Department of the Secretary of State must then receive the signatures by Aug. 1 in order for unenrolled candidates like Kennedy to qualify for the presidential ballot.

Kennedy has been polling around 9% in recent national polls. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump has averaged 42% support in recent polls, compared to 40% for Biden and 9.5% for Kennedy.

An Emerson College poll released Tuesday showed Trump leading Biden 44% to 40% with Kennedy receiving 6% of the vote and 1% supporting both Cornel West and Jill Stein.

The nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, Kennedy has drawn criticism in the past for promoting various conspiracy theories on topics including vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks to volunteers and supporters at the Old Town Meeting Place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport Tuesday. Rachel Ohm/Staff Writer

He also made headlines last week for saying “it’s hard to tell what is a conspiracy theory and isn’t” when it comes to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He vowed to “open the files and usher in a new era of transparency” if elected president.

VOTERS SEE AN ALTERNATIVE

Jeff Morris, who is an elector for Kennedy, said family members who are involved in the campaign got him interested, too. A former Democrat who is now independent, he said he’s been disenchanted with politics the last several years and has felt his vote didn’t really make a difference.

“Both sides have been so divisive and nasty to each other that I didn’t want anything to do with it,” said Morris, 61. A math professor who lives in Lewiston, he said a lot of friends tell him Kennedy is “that crazy guy.”

“He’ll at least get in front of the camera and answer the question,” Morris said. “You can choose not to believe him. You can choose not to vote for him. But he’ll at least answer your question.”

Jennifer and Chris Harris, who traveled about an hour from South Paris to see Kennedy, said they were excited to come.

“He’s inspiring,” said Jennifer Harris, 52. “He’s actually talking about real issues we’re dealing with as Americans. He wants to help the economy. He wants to help stop pharmaceutical companies from running the world. I feel like he listens and hears us.”

An independent, Harris also interested in food security and in keeping local food and farming in Maine. “We’re really excited to see him,” Harris said. “For the first time ever in my life, I care about politics.”



Source link