Group’s ‘Third Party’ Candidate Could Upend 2024 US Presidential Race

Concerned that a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election is likely — despite the fact that polling shows a majority of Americans say they would prefer that neither man run — a group in Washington is prepared to spend $70 million to create a path for a third-party candidate to enter the race.

The group, called No Labels, describes itself as “a national movement of commonsense Americans,” and has been working for a number of years to create bipartisan compromise in Congress. Over the past year or more, it has turned its eye toward presidential politics, believing that most Americans are dissatisfied with the two-party system dominated by conflict between Democrats and Republicans.

The organization says it has not officially decided to nominate a candidate, and that doing so will only be necessary if neither the Republicans nor the Democrats nominate a candidate who appeals to a broad swath of politically centrist Americans.

Right now, according to No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy, that requirement would rule out both Biden and Trump. He cited recent surveys by his organization and other national pollsters showing that significant majorities of Americans say they would prefer that neither Biden nor Trump run again in 2024.

“Our intent from the beginning has not been to blow up the two-party system. Our intent has been to make it work,” Clancy told VOA. “The issue with 2024 is, we’ve now reached a place, unfortunately, where it seems like for the presidential race, both parties could be close to nominating candidates the vast majority of Americans do not want to vote for.”

Bipartisan affiliations

No Labels was founded in 2010 by former Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson. The organization is affiliated with a number of well-known figures associated with both major political parties, including Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, Republican Senator Susan Collins, Republican former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Joe Lieberman, a former Democratic senator and vice presidential nominee who is now an independent.

The group was responsible for the creation of the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House of Representatives, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who seek to bring the parties together on issues of mutual agreement.

No Labels’ plan to potentially support a third-party candidate has begun to attract some criticism.

William Galston, a public policy scholar and a co-founder of No Labels, has publicly broken with the group over its third-party plan. He said he is concerned that the addition of a third-party candidate to a close 2024 contest would siphon support away from Biden and lead to the reelection of Trump, whose efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election remain the subject of an investigation by the Department of Justice.

“I am proud of No Labels’ record of bipartisan legislation, and I know its leaders want what is best for the country. But I cannot support the organization’s preparation for a possible independent presidential candidacy,” he said in a statement issued to The Washington Post.

“There is no equivalence between President Biden and a former president who threatens the survival of our constitutional order. And most important, in today’s closely divided politics, any division of the anti-Trump vote would open the door to his reelection,” Galston said.

No Labels insists it has done extensive polling that indicates a centrist third-party candidate would draw votes away from the Republicans and Democrats in equal measure.

‘Unity’ ticket

On the No Labels website, the group describes its effort as “Insurance Policy 2024.”

Clancy told VOA his organization has already secured the ability to place a candidate on presidential ballots in 28 states, and said he is confident it will be in a position to enter a candidate in all 50 states by 2024.

The group has said it would most likely look for one Republican and one Democrat to fill the presidential and vice presidential slots, creating a “unity ticket.”

The No Labels candidate would be chosen by a nominating committee. The composition of the committee would be made public, but its deliberations would remain confidential, Clancy said. The nominating committee, he said, would be “a diverse, distinguished group of Americans” made up of “established figures from across the political spectrum, different genders, ethnicities, we wanted as much as possible to look like and think like America.”

Clancy said the group is already planning to hold a convention in Dallas in spring 2024, and that it is recruiting delegates who could vote to ratify the nomination of a candidate.

Funding secret

No Labels is organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code as a social welfare organization. The law does not require the group to reveal the names of the people and organizations who donate to it. According to its 2021 tax return, No Labels brought in $11.3 million in 2021 and had net assets of $9.7 million at the end of that year, suggesting a large inflow of cash has made the third-party effort possible.

Clancy said the $70 million the organization is currently investing in the effort is coming from “donors across the country, across the political spectrum by geography.”

In the event that the money his group spends winds up building what he called the “launchpad” for a viable presidential candidate in 2024, Clancy said the organization will still decline to identify the sources of the funding that made it possible.

“We never have and never will release individual donor names,” Clancy said.

Political scientists dubious

On its website, No Labels challenges the idea that by nominating a third-party candidate, it would be acting as a “spoiler” and tipping the election to one of the major parties by leaching support from the other.

A slide presentation offers one entry suggesting that a No Labels ticket “is not a spoiler, it’s a winner.” The accompanying graphic shows a hypothetical three-way 2024 election outcome in which Biden wins only California and Connecticut, Trump wins nine hardcore Republican states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and a No Labels candidate wins the 39 remaining states.

Political scientists contacted by VOA said they doubted the projection was realistic.

“This is utterly ridiculous,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told VOA. “If they want to be taken seriously, that’s not how to do it.”

Sabato said he believes a third-party candidate nominated by No Labels would be likely to help a Trump campaign while harming Biden’s. He also expressed concerns about the lack of transparency of No Labels’ financing.

“If they can’t even tell us who’s funding them, then it does make me very suspicious of their motives,” he said.

Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, told VOA he does not expect any third-party effort to gain much traction in 2024.

“It seems like pretty much every election … someone gets some millionaires to donate some money for this effort to put together a unity ticket,” he said. “There’s some initial interest, and it doesn’t really go anywhere.”

The reasons, Masket said, are structural.

“The American election system is engineered to produce a two-party system outcome, and so voters tend to not want to waste their votes,” he said.

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