Democrats Fear Third-Party Run As Joe Manchin Heads To New Hampshire

The Democratic senator's decision to appear at a No Labels event is stoking fresh speculation about a third-party presidential spoiler campaign.

WASHINGTON ― Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) insists his trip to New Hampshire with a group preparing to run a third-party bid for the presidency has nothing to do with a potential challenge to President Joe Biden, even as Democrats are growing increasingly anxious about a possible 2024 election spoiler putting Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner, in the White House again.

No Labels, the political organization advocating for a third-party candidate, has been openly flirting with recruiting someone to lead its ticket for months. The group announced Wednesday that Manchin will headline a town hall in the early nominating state next week alongside former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, stoking speculation over whether the conservative Senate Democrat will make a third-party bid for the White House.

Manchin, who is up for reelection next year, has yet to announce his plans for 2024. In true Manchin fashion, he is playing coy about his intentions and not ruling out a presidential run. During an interview on Wednesday, Manchin dismissed the notion that an event taking place in teh Granite State has anything to do with politics.

“It has nothing to do with any election, it has everything to do with common sense and solving common problems,” Manchin told HuffPost.

No Labels promotes bipartisan cooperation, but its actual ideology is extremely vague. The group is registered as a nonprofit and does not disclose its donors, though it has said it has raised tens of millions of dollars for the effort.

The group has secured ballot access in several states, including Alaska, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona. Earlier this year, Arizona Democrats filed a lawsuit seeking to knock it off the ballot in the state because it failed to comply with the requirements for a political party, including disclosing donors and registering with the Federal Election Commission.

No Labels outlined its plan earlier this year to run a Republican and Democrat for president and vice president next year in case the two parties don’t select “a suitable” candidate. Past third-party efforts have had little success, however, and no third-party candidate has won a state on the presidential level in decades.

A recent Echelon Insights poll found that Manchin would draw single digits if he decided to run for president on a third-party ticket. The June survey also found that Manchin would attract voters from both parties but pull more undecided voters in a race with Trump and Biden.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) could draw undecided voters from both parties if he ran as a third-party presidential candidate under the No Labels banner, according to a recent poll.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) could draw undecided voters from both parties if he ran as a third-party presidential candidate under the No Labels banner, according to a recent poll.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

It’s difficult to imagine Manchin launching a third-party run with the knowledge that it would almost certainly result in his failure. He could simply be maximizing his time in the limelight, as he often does, and positioning himself as a centrist who is unafraid of criticizing of Biden ahead of a tough Senate reelection fight. But anything’s possible at this point.

Democrats are clear-eyed about the threat a third-party bid could pose to Biden’s reelection effort. Former House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt is planning to launch a new group to oppose the No Labels initiative, while officials from the progressive group MoveOn and centrist group Third Way are planning to brief Senate Democratic chiefs of staff about the risks involved.

“I like No Labels. I think their focus on the middle is important. But I think if they run a candidate, they will give Donald Trump the presidency,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is up for re-election next year, told HuffPost.

“I want to know who fund No Labels. Who is No Labels?” asked Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.). “Who’s putting a lot of money into this? Increasingly they look like a political party, but they appear to be skirting the rules about disclosure for political parties.”

Manchin’s Democratic Senate colleagues would prefer to see him run for reelection in West Virginia, where Republicans have the best chance of flipping a seat. Democrats are facing a very tough Senate map next year, with several incumbents up for reelection in red states. If they can pick off West Virginia, Republicans could take back control of the 51-49 Senate.

“I think his absence in West Virginia would be a very significant minus,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, adding that he shared concerns about a No Labels candidacy drawing support away from Biden in 2024.

“It pulls votes from Joe Biden,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Senate Democrat, said of a potential No Labels third-party bid. “I hope he runs for reelection in West Virginia.”

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