The bipartisan political group No Labels is stepping up a well-funded effort to field a « ticket to unity » for the 2024 presidential race, prompting fierce resistance even from some of its closest allies who fear returning the White House to Donald J. Trump.
Topping the list of potential candidates is Senator Joe Manchin III, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia who has been a headache for his party and could lose President Biden’s support in areas crucial to his re-election.
The centrist group’s leadership was in New York this week to raise some of the money — about $70 million — it needs to help with voter access efforts nationwide.
« The determination to nominate a ticket » will be made shortly after next year’s primary on what’s known as Super Tuesday, March 5, said Nancy Jacobson, co-founder and leader of No Labels. A national convention was set for April 14-15 in Dallas, where a Democratic-Republican ticket would be set to face the two major-party candidates. (Mr. Biden is facing two long-range challengers and Mr. Trump is the Republican favorite.)
Other potential No Labels candidates being floated include Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona, and former Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, who has said he will not run for the GOP nomination and is the co- national president of the group. But Mr. Manchin has received more attention recently after speaking on a conference call last month with donors.
« We’re not trying to pick the ticket right now, » cautioned former Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan and a longtime associate of the group, in an interview Wednesday as he prepared to meet with donors and leaders in New York . « Our goal is to get to the ballot. »
The campaign has already secured polling places in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon and is now targeting Florida, Nevada and North Carolina. But gaining access to the nationwide ballot is a challenging and expensive endeavor, and the group still has a long way to go.
Ms. Jacobson called the project « an insurance policy in case both major parties run presidential candidates that the vast majority of Americans don’t support. »
« We are well aware that any independent ticket faces a steep climb and if our rigorously collected data and surveys suggest that an independent unit ticket cannot win, we will not nominate a ticket, » he said.
Warnings aside, the effort is causing deep tensions with the group’s ideological allies, congressional partners and Democratic Party officials who are scrambling to stop it. Third-party candidates siphoned off enough votes to likely cost Democratic elections in 2000 (Al Gore) and 2016 (Hillary Clinton). Republicans say the same thing about Ross Perot’s role in blocking George HW Bush’s re-election in 1992.
“If No Labels runs a Joe Manchin against Donald Trump and Joe Biden, I think it will be a historic disaster,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota and, until now, a strong supporter of the organization. « And I speak for just about every moderate Democrat and quite frankly most of my moderate Republican friends. »
People close to Mr. Manchin doubt he would join a No Labels ticket. He must decide by January whether to run for re-election in his staunchly Republican state. But he sees a way back to the Senate.
The state’s popular Democratic-turned-Republican Governor Jim Justice is running for the Republican nomination to challenge Manchin, but so is West Virginia’s most Trump-aligned House member Alex Mooney, who has the wealthy politician’s backing Action Committee Club for Growth.
If Mr. Mooney can knock Mr. Justice out, or hurt him badly by pulling off the governor’s centrist records and Democrat days, Mr. Manchin sees a path to re-election and no real prospects of actually winning the presidency on the No Tickets labels.
But he keeps his options open, at least as he raises money under the auspices of No Labels.
« We try to get people back together for the good of the country, not just the good of the party, » Manchin told the group’s donors on a recent conference call leaked to the news site. Puck this month.
Opponents are mobilizing to stop No Labels. Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows sent a cease and desist letter this month to the director of the voting access group, accusing the organization of misrepresenting its intentions as it presses for signatures to get the state’s presidential vote.
THE The Democratic Party of Arizona sued this spring to drop No Labels from the state’s ballot, accusing it of « engaging in a dark strategy to gain ballot access — when in fact they’re not a political party. »
One of the founders of No Labels, William Galston, a former political aide to President Bill Clinton, publicly resigned from his own organization over the push. In an interview, he pointed to polls that show voters who dislike both Mr. Trump and President Biden— »double haters »—overwhelmingly say they would ultimately vote for Mr. Biden. Given an alternative, this may not be the case.
And Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a centrist coalition aligned with No Labels that actually does No Labels’ legislative work, are in open revolt.
« I can think of nothing worse than another Trump presidency and no better way to help him than by running a third-party candidate, » said Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat from Illinois.
No Labels has long had its detractors, variously accused of ineffectiveness, who supported Republicans and existed primarily to raise large sums of money from wealthy corporate donors, many of whom give primarily to Republicans.
But the grumbling criticism took on a more urgent tone when Puck has posted a partial transcript of a leaked conference call No Labels held with its backers. On it, Ryan Clancy, the group’s chief strategist, said vote organizers were at « 600,000 signatures and counting » and approaching the polls in « about 20 states, » with their eyes on all 50.
Mr Manchin joined the call as the closest: « The hope is to keep the country that we have, and you can’t do that by forcing extreme sides on both sides, » he said.
Mr. Manchin’s political appeal beyond West Virginia is debatable. The strongest discontent among Democrats with Biden has come from young voters, many of whom are animated by the issue of climate change, and are not aligned with the coal-state Democrat on this.
Mr. Manchin is not a climate denier in the traditional sense. He has repeatedly referred to the « climate crisis » caused by human activities.
Yet Mr. Manchin, whose state produces some of the highest levels of coal and natural gas nationwide and who has made millions from his family’s coal business, has long fought policies that would punish companies for not switching more quickly to clean energy and accused Mr. Manchin Biden of promoting a « radical climate agenda ».
But Democrats care. Pittsburgh’s southwestern suburbs border West Virginia, and it wouldn’t take many Democrats rushing from Manchin to hand Pennsylvania over to Trump, they warn.
Ms Jacobson said on the leaked conference call that No Labels had been « Pearl Harbored » by a March note from the democratic centrist group Third Way. The memo was bluntly titled: « A Plan That Will Re-Elect Trump. »
« It wasn’t exactly a sneak attack, » longtime Third Way leader Matt Bennett retorted in an interview. « We are enormously alarmed. »
Lisa Friedmann contributed to the reporting from Washington.