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The No Labels political group is contemplating a third-party presidential run

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How would the 2024 presidential campaign be different if there were three serious candidates? Some big funders seem eager to support an alternative to Joe Biden and Donald Trump, each of whom leads the polling for his party's nomination, though we should note no vote has been cast yet. The big funders have been working to get a party called No Labels on the ballot and have talked up centrist figures such as West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. Chris Stirewalt is following No Labels. He is a contributing editor at the Dispatch and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and he's on the line. Good morning, sir.

CHRIS STIREWALT: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Who is No Labels, exactly?

STIREWALT: Well, No Labels we know best maybe from the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House of Representatives, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans who preach cooperation and have not solved many problems, but have been around to try to be a moderating force. They're led by a woman named Nancy Jacobson, a former Democrat but a former Clinton Democrat, centrist Democrat, who has been leading the effort for quite a while now with the goal of bringing together people. And when you look at their national leadership, the people they put forward, it's Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat turned independent senator from Connecticut, and Larry Hogan, the former Republican governor of Maryland.

INSKEEP: OK. And they talk up people like Manchin, who says he's not running for reelection from West Virginia. Manchin is a Democrat, we should note. I guess we would say he's a conservative Democrat or a moderate Democrat, although he provided a lot of key votes for Democrats in the last several years. How is the presidential campaign different if someone like Manchin is suddenly on the ballot in a number of states?

STIREWALT: Well, they're on the ballot - No Labels is on the ballot now in 12 states. And that's not that many states, though they say they're going to make it all the way. But that's not that many states. But the states where they are are really important. So Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, three of the closest states in 2020, most important, and Florida, where Republicans have had a good run, but where the results tend to be very close. So you can imagine how if there was an alternative candidate - and there will be, by the way, alternative candidates in these places...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

STIREWALT: ...But as you say, one that was funded and one that was well-known and one that was campaigning, that it would be definitely consequential.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to figure out who it would be consequential for. I mean, people will presume this candidate can't easily win, but would they pull more from the Republican side or the Democratic side?

STIREWALT: Well, I think that's the problem that Joe Manchin has right now. So we don't know how you become the No Labels candidate, because I don't know that No Labels knows how you become the No Labels candidate yet. They're going to have a convention in Dallas in April. And they're going to pick, they say, a bipartisan ticket, a Republican and a Democrat as president or vice president. And that they're going to put these people forward, give them their blessing, and then they'll go out and run their own campaign.

I think the problem that Manchin has is that the folks who are around this organization pretty clearly seem like they don't want Donald Trump to be president again, and that if they had to choose between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, that they would rather it be Biden. And if that's the case, running a Democrat comes with some significant problems because...

INSKEEP: Oh, I mean, because Manchin is pro-choice, just to pick one issue. He would not get a lot of Republican votes for that reason, you think?

STIREWALT: He's pro-choice-ish, I think.

INSKEEP: OK. Yeah, fair enough.

STIREWALT: (Laughter) But he's got a moment in the Senate now where he is unbound by the need to suck up to Democrats in order - and Democrats don't like Joe Manchin because of all of the times that he has spoiled the fun for them on different votes. He's got a magic moment now in the Senate, with a bunch of consequential votes coming up, in which he can - he has the opportunity to move rightward further still and brand himself in that way, which might be helpful in his bid.

INSKEEP: OK. All right. Chris Stirewalt, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

STIREWALT: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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