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Centrist group No Labels won’t field a ticket in presidential election

The centrist group No Labels abandoned its ambitions for a third-party 2024 presidential campaign Thursday, saying it had failed to find candidates who had a credible path to victory in the November elections.

“Americans remain more open to an independent presidential run and hungrier for unifying national leadership than ever before,” the group said in a statement. “But No Labels has always said we would only offer our ballot line to a ticket if we could identify candidates with a credible path to winning the White House. No such candidates emerged, so the responsible course of action is for us to stand down.”

The group had gained ballot access in 21 states and claimed to have a clear way of getting on the ballot in the remaining states, once candidates were nominated. But the group struggled to find anyone with significant stature who was willing to take on the role, in the face of significant opposition from Democrats who believed the No Labels effort would help elect former president Donald Trump.

Many of the potential candidates they courted ruled out a bid, including Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), former Maryland governor Larry Hogan (R) and former Georgia lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan (R). More recently, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) declined to run on the ticket after spending weeks looking at whether he could mount a successful third-party run. He commissioned polling in 13 states before ruling out a bid.

News of the group’s decision was first reported Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.

Tyler Cymet, the chair of Maryland’s No Labels party, said discussions about finding a candidate, including from nonpolitical spheres such as the military and academia, continued up until Thursday, but the consensus was reached that there was no path forward for any person. The group also discussed putting in a stand-in name, such as that of former senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), a No Labels co-chair who died last week after a fall, in states where the group had ballot access. That idea was also ruled out.

Tim Kneeland, a No Labels delegate from Iowa, said that the group has been in discussions about what comes next and that most involved wanted to avoid putting a ticket forward that wouldn’t win. Many realized that potential candidates would face a steep climb persuading voters and others who considered any No Labels contender a spoiler.

“What we learned is the environment is so toxic for anyone who has been considering this,” he said. “We were having a real hard time finding quality candidates.”

The No Labels presidential project was premised on the idea that President Biden and Trump would be the major-party nominees this spring, despite widespread voter desire for other candidates. From the start, the group’s leaders, who did not disclose the donors funding the effort, said they did not want to help Trump win another term and were not interested in running a protest campaign.

“I just wanted to emphasize on the spoiler question: I would not be involved if I thought in any account that we would do something to spoil the election in favor of Donald Trump,” co-chair Benjamin Chavis Jr. said in early 2023. “That’s just not going to happen.”

But the effort nonetheless caused deep divisions within moderate Democratic circles, as old friends who had arrived in Washington during the Clinton presidency in the 1990s turned against one another. William Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar and former Clinton adviser who had co-founded the group, left in protest over its presidential ambitions.

No Labels later filed a federal lawsuit against a group of liberal activists who had created a spoof website, hoping to reveal secrets about its opponents during discovery. The group’s leaders also asked the Justice Department to investigate alleged efforts by political opponents to intimidate No Label’s supporters.

No Labels fury was directed at a sprawling campaign against it that included the moderate Democratic group Third Way, the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and a new group called Citizens to Save Our Republic, founded by former House minority leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Third Way, a group run by former friends and colleagues of No Labels’s leadership, focused on dissuading any potential candidates from participating in the No Labels bid.

They contacted the potential No Labels candidates to make their case, and then recruited others to do the same. Family friends, college roommates, business partners and even clergy of the potential candidates were all put to work in an effort to pressure those politicians, said Matt Bennett, the Third Way vice president who helmed much of the effort.

Opponents also produced extensive polling analysis showing the dangers of a third-party campaign with Trump in the race, and recruited a No Labels delegate to feed them real-time information about the group’s plans.

A June strategy meeting at Third Way’s offices, which included top Democratic policy and political operatives, including former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain, demonstrated the reach of their effort.

“We are deeply relieved that everyone rejected their offer,” Bennett said in a statement Thursday.

Democrats continue to be concerned about third-party and independent campaigns run by attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., scholar Cornel West and Green Party leader Jill Stein.

“Now, it’s time for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to see the writing on the wall that no third-party has a path forward to winning the presidency,” said Rahna Epting, the executive director of MoveOn, a progressive group that also opposed No Labels. “We must come together to defeat the biggest threat to our democracy and country: Donald Trump.”

No Labels leaders said Thursday that they will continue to try to build a centrist middle ground in federal politics.

“We will remain engaged over the next year during what is likely to be the most divisive presidential election of our lifetimes,” the group said in its statement. “Like many Americans, we are concerned that the division and strife gripping the country will reach a critical point after this election regardless of who wins. Post-election, No Labels will be prepared to champion and defend the values and interests of America’s common-sense majority.”

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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