West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday defended his flirtation with a third-party presidential campaign, telling voters at a No Labels forum at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire that he had no plans to play “spoiler” in the 2024 election.
“I’ve never been in any race I’ve ever spoiled. I’ve been in races to win,” Manchin said. “And if I get in a race, I’m going to win.”
Sitting beside former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, Manchin railed against withering bipartisanship in Washington, DC, saying the “business model” of the two major parties “is better if you’re divided.” Huntsman offered a similar critique, as the men complimented one another’s work and blamed the “extremes” of the Republican and Democratic parties on Capitol Hill for holding up popular legislation.
“We’re here,” Manchin told a supportive audience, “to make sure the American people have an option.”
Manchin largely demurred when faced with direct questions about his future plans. He is up for reelection to the Senate in 2024. When asked about a potential pivot to running on a No Labels ticket for the White House, Manchin said people were “putting the cart ahead of the horse” and that the group was only aiming “to make sure the American people have an option.”
“I have no idea what Joe’s gonna do,” Huntsman said. Both men told reporters afterward any talk of a Manchin-Huntsman ticket was premature and a distraction.
Before the pair stepped onstage before a crowd of a few hundred people, No Labels founding chairman Joe Lieberman, the former US senator from Connecticut and 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, and national co-chairs Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. and former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, touted the group’s “Common Sense” policy manifesto and warned that a rematch next year between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump could lead them to launching a candidate of their own.
McCrory described No Labels’ efforts to get on presidential ballot lines in states across the country as an “insurance policy” against that result, but said that the group’s “first goal is to influence the agenda of politicians who are coming to New Hampshire and other states during this primary season.”
He also warned Democrats and Republicans against trying to keep No Labels off the ballot.
“Sadly, we have some operatives out of Washington, DC, who want to just keep the status quo as it is who are trying to stop our efforts,” McCrory said. “But I’m telling you right now, it won’t work.”
He also set Super Tuesday as the date when the group would take stock and make a decision about running a presidential ticket.
“We will present a president and vice president candidate on a No Labels ticket if Biden and Trump are on track to win their parties’ nominations,” McCrory said. “We plan to do that. But only if we see we have an opportunity to win.”
Before the event began, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley denounced the group, claiming it was a front for right-wing interests hoping to “pave the way for another four years of scandal and division with Donald Trump.”
“Granite Staters aren’t stupid,” Buckley said, “and they won’t be fooled by some out of state dark money group. Whatever they do, New Hampshire will be blue once again in 2024.”
A new bipartisan super PAC, called “Citizens to Save Our Republic,” also announced its plans on Monday to push back against any third-party campaign, noting a recent poll that showed a No Labels candidate effectively swinging the election from Biden to Trump.
“In normal times, we would have no problem with this No Labels effort,” the group, which is being launched by operatives from both parties, said in a statement. “But these are not normal times. As conservative Judge Michael Luttig told the January 6 committee, our democracy hangs on a ‘knife’s edge.’”
For more than a decade, the No Labels movement has promoted bipartisanship over political extremes in Washington. The group, which registers as a non-profit and declines to disclose its donors, plans to raise $70 million for a candidate-in-waiting.
The group, in its 2024 debut, unveiled what it called a “Common Sense” policy book – aiming to find middle ground on controversial issues from abortion rights to guns to immigration, putting forward an agenda that sounds downright utopian in today’s deeply divided Washington.
What Manchin and other leaders of the No Labels group describe as a unity ticket, many Democrats simply call a spoiler – by siphoning just enough votes from Biden to help Trump win back the White House.
Former Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, a national co-chair of the group, pushed back on that assertion in an interview on Monday.
“We don’t intend to be a spoiler,” Cunningham told CNN. “If we got in it, we would be in it to win it. It’s that simple.”
No Labels has secured ballot access in Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Utah and Colorado, aides say, with a goal of reaching 20 states by the end of the year.
“Folks are looking at a rematch of Trump v. Biden,” Cunningham said. “It’s a rematch no one really wants. Two thirds of Americans don’t want to see it.”
While third party efforts have shown little promise in modern American history, deep displeasure with Trump and Biden have shined a brighter light on the prospects this year. Mindful of an enthusiasm shortfall facing Biden, Democrats are increasingly sounding the alarm, haunted by Ross Perot’s independent bid in 1992 and Green Party runs from Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016. Cornel West, the leftist professor and political theorist, launched a third-party run in June and is now competing for the Green Party’s nomination in 2024.