No Labels has no candidate yet: What's next for group trying to launch third-party 2024 bid?

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(WASHINGTON) -- The bipartisan No Labels movement is facing a self-imposed soft deadline of early April to field a ticket in the 2024 presidential race, despite declaring last month that it would move forward with a third-party independent bid.

The official launch by No Labels in March offered hope to supporters who yearned for a different choice other than the presumptive nominees, incumbent President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. No Labels indicated, according to its internal polling, that more than 70% of Americans said they'd be open to another option.

While the group has said there's no formal deadline for selecting and naming a candidate, No Labels National Convention Chair Mike Rawlings has suggested early April. Chief strategist Ryan Clancy said late last year the group could linger as late as June to decide if they would enter the 2024 election. But as of now, there is no candidate and, therefore, no third choice.

No Labels' 800 delegates from 50 states met virtually in March to discuss the future of the movement and whether it would enter the 2024 presidential election. "They voted near unanimously to continue our 2024 project and to move immediately to identify candidates to serve on the Unity presidential ticket," Rawlings said in a statement at the time.

After formally revealing the group would move forward with a White House bid last month, Clancy told ABC News that "any previous names floating around are being put out there by someone else," which signaled efforts to reclaim the narrative of who might be on a potential "Unity Ticket" -- composed of one Republican and one Democrat.

The centrist group then outlined a ceremonial Country Over Party committee tasked with selecting the candidates. It was the committee's goal to gather information, reach out to prospective candidates and then meet behind closed doors before presenting a ticket to their delegates for a vote, according to Rawlings, who outlined the selection process.

For the past year and a half, No Labels leadership has held private conversations with potential candidates in an attempt to lure in former and current political figures, according to people familiar with the outreach.

It's unclear how fast or serious the group has been in the past several weeks since their delegates signed off, and No Labels has been tight-lipped when approached about developments. ABC News has reached out to the group several times.

Who has been floated as a potential candidate?
A handful of delegates suggested to ABC News they heard a few names floated over the past two weeks, but no one was willing to provide any new names or disclose if they have received updates from the committee.

In conversations with ABC News, these delegates did suggest unicorn names such as Michelle Obama and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Both have ruled out running for president. When pressed further on potential candidates, delegates suggested there are still candidates being considered.

Adversely, a few former high-dollar donors to No Labels suggested to ABC News they were well-aware the group couldn't move forward and weren't surprised by the lack of candidate interest. Some suggested No Labels' decision to move forward would only create a spoiler.

Several donors had thrown their support behind former Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley -- who suspended her 2024 campaign last month -- but No Labels put that to rest, releasing a statement after Haley's campaign suspension saying the group will take her "at her word" that she "isn't interested in pursuing another route to the presidency."

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was also once speculated to be on the ticket, but announced he would run for U.S. Senate instead.

Other names that have been floated by the bipartisan group include former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

At the end of March, Christie said he won't run against Trump on a third-party ticket with No Labels in the 2024 presidential race.

"While I believe this is a conversation that needs to be had with the American people, I also believe that if there is not a pathway to win and if my candidacy in any way, shape or form would help Donald Trump become president again, then it is not the way forward," Christie said at the time.

That same day, No Labels also faced a tragedy when the group's founding chair, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, died due to complications from a fall.

Where is No Labels on the ballot?
No Labels is on the ballot in 19 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.

No Labels previously claimed it would be on the ballot in 34 states by the end of 2023, later saying it would attempt to get on the ballot in 33 states by the time a candidate was announced. The group has yet to hit these benchmarks.

The group has indicated that once it selects the Unity Ticket and hands over the ballot line, the candidate is responsible for the rest of the states, as well as campaigning.

"Once the Unity ticket is nominated, No Labels' work is done. The Unity Ticket will assume the task of building a campaign and capturing the hearts and minds of the American people in the 2024 election," Rawlings said.

The disappearance of No Labels once the ballot line is passed over to a candidate allows the group to remain a nonprofit, and no donor would be disclosed. No Labels could also stay mum on how much money it has raised and where that money might go moving forward if it's not used for 2024.

No Labels hasn't indicated its future role if and when a candidate is selected.

Timeline unknown
No Labels was slated to hold a Dallas convention on April 14 and 15 to hear from supporters and gauge whether the group would launch a third-party ticket.

That in-person convention turned to a virtual option allowing the group more time to proceed, with Clancy telling reporters they'd linger as late as June to decide if the group would enter the 2024 election.

The convention ended up taking place virtually in March -- a month earlier than planned, despite wanting to allow for more time.

Following the delegate vote to move forward in March, No Labels entered a second phase to finalize the group's candidate selection process. As a final step, No Labels will reconvene and present its candidate to the group for approval.

The "coming weeks" has become a standard phrase given to ABC News when some supporters and delegates have been pressed on whether the group has a candidate yet.

What are No Labels' exit options?
Nancy Jacobson, chief executive and founder of No Labels, previously said No Labels will "either give our ballot line to a ticket with a clear path to victory, or we'll step aside."

Over the past year, No Labels has indicated it could cease its operations if they believed their ticket couldn't win or couldn't get 270 electoral college votes. The group also said it would exit if they believed they would spoil the election.

No Labels leadership has reiterated claims that they will not spoil the 2024 election.

"We will never fuel a spoiler candidate," Clancy has said. "We don't want to fuel any sort of candidacy that's pulling more votes from one side."

No Labels has indicated a future ticket would hold the 30 policy proposals introduced at a July event by Manchin and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in a No Labels policy agenda booklet.

Rawlings also reiterated these qualifications last month, suggesting that in order to represent a No Labels ticket, a candidate must believe in the six core values of No Labels and endorse the policy booklet that was established in July.

"This is a unique American moment where we have a chance to make history. We can leave behind the divisions and dysfunction and finally have leadership in the White House that speaks to and for America's common sense majority," Rawlings said at the end of his remarks during the virtual convention in March.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024 at 7:43PM by Kelsey Walsh, ABC News Permalink