A 'unity' ticket in 2024 presidential race? Why Democrats are objecting to third-party group's plan

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(WASHINGTON) -- A "unity" team running for the White House next year may sound farfetched -- one Republican and one Democrat teaming up to share a platform and a presidential ticket -- but some Democrats say they are worried that such a possibility could spoil Joe Biden's reelection hopes.

And they're looking to stop it.

No Labels is the group floating a bipartisan team-up if 2024 features the increasingly likely rematch of Biden versus Donald Trump, both of whom face weak approval ratings. Democrats, burned by third-party candidates who may have tipped key states in 2016 -- when, for example, Hillary Clinton lost Michigan to Trump by 11,000 votes while Libertarian Gary Johnson earned 172,000 ballots -- are sounding the alarm that No Labels could similarly siphon votes from Biden.

In response, Democrats are mounting a scattered effort to blunt the outside group's efforts.

Among No Labels' gripes are what they decry as attempts to block access to the ballot in certain states. And while both Democrats and No Labels agree avoiding a Trump presidency is a priority, the feud has sparked a debate over whether efforts to pump the breaks on a third-party bid amount to suppression or due diligence.

"I will tell you, I lose sleep about this," said veteran Georgia Democratic strategist David Brand.

He likened a hypothetical No Labels ticket to Democrats' version of Ross Perot, the outside candidate who drew nearly 20% of the vote in the 1992 presidential election while incumbent George H.W. Bush narrowly lost to Bill Clinton.

"I have not spoken to anyone who's doesn't take this seriously," Brand said, urging Democrats to be as "humanly and legally" aggressive as possible to keep No Labels off the ballot.

No Labels officials strongly refute that their potential ticket plans to serve as any kind of "spoiler," casting it solely as an insurance policy and insisting that if polling numbers show a third-party bid has no path to victory, they will take an "off-ramp." No specific person has been floated as a nominee -- though some names like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have been speculated about -- and a ticket would not be formally anointed until after Super Tuesday during the primary next year.

But for now, No Labels is dogged both in its belief in a national appetite for a bipartisan ticket and its efforts to clinch spots on the ballot in 2024.

The group points to polling it commissioned showing that voters would back a third-party ticket -- without surveying precise candidates -- and it has plans to qualify for ballots in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Their ticket, the group suggests, would be moderate in ideology, arguing that most Americans reject party extremes.

No Labels does not have to disclose its funders but is committed to raising $70 million for a third-party ticket in 2024.

In a statement, a spokesperson said, "We never share the names of our supporters because we live in an era where far-right and far-left agitators and partisan operatives try to destroy and intimidate organizations they don't like by attacking their individual supporters."

Benjamin Chavis, a No Labels national co-chair, told ABC News he is "very confident" the group will hit its goal.

"And the reason why we're confident and our confidence grows each week is because of the responses that we get from the American people in all these states," he said.

Still, Chavis and No Labels' chief strategist, Ryan Clancy, insisted repeatedly in a nearly 45-minute interview that the momentum of a ballot access campaign wouldn't prevent the group from pulling the plug if need be.

"No Labels is on the record, we will not be a spoiler in any case ... to the interests of Donald Trump," Chavis said.

Those assurances have done little to ease Democrats' worries, with many party operatives maintaining that any third-party bid has no chance -- and some not taking No Labels' word that it would back out if it lacks adequate support.

"The voters that swung to the Democratic side after Trump came on the scene, I do not believe yet that they are permanent fixtures in the Democratic Party, which is why I really think a No Labels-type unity ticket or whatever you want to call it could potentially attract enough of those voters. And that would be, I think, tragic for our country," said Pennsylvania-based strategist Mike Mikus.

Third Way, a center-left think tank, published a memo in March accusing No Labels' potential ticket of boosting Trump and noting No Labels has "not explained their criteria" that would dictate leaving the race.

The think tank also helped coordinate an op-ed hitting No Labels.

And the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump GOP group, released a statement insisting it wasn't trying to undermine No Labels but claiming that "objective math" suggested a third-party ticket was fated for defeat.

The Democratic Party in Arizona is suing No Labels and the Democratic secretary of state, contesting No Labels' status as a third party in Arizona and accusing it instead of being a "dark money" group. And in Maine, the Democratic secretary of state sent letters to residents who signed forms registering with the No Labels Party seeking to ensure they indeed meant to register.

Some Democrats have also spoken out.

"No Labels is wasting time, energy, and money on a bizarre effort that confuses and divides voters, and has one obvious outcome -- reelecting Donald Trump as President," Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger said in a statement.

No Labels is not ready to definitively say the obstacles are part of a coordinated effort but claims it is being treated differently than other third parties.

"On the one hand, you don't want to be conspiratorial," said Clancy, the chief strategist. "On the other hand, when you talk to our people up in Maine, and they talk about in past elections when the Green Party or the Libertarian Party would make an effort to get on the ballot, it was a non-issue and the people who signed those registrations certainly never got the kind of letters are signatories got."

"So, you can't help but think we're getting a little special attention because we're injecting some unwelcome competition," he said.

Officials in those states, however, told ABC News their efforts are nothing unusual.

Arizona's Democratic Party claims No Labels hasn't properly registered as a party, and Maine's Department of the Secretary of State says they only sent letters to voters registered with No Labels after getting complaints from voters saying they thought they were signing up to support the idea of a third party -- not necessarily switch their registration to one. And when letters were sent, bold text indicated that if voters indeed wanted to register with No Labels, no further action had to be taken.

Maine officials also said at least one resident complained that the form they were asked to sign was explicitly advertised as a form that wouldn't impact registration.

"As the elections administrator, who the parties are, who the candidates are on the ballot are not something we take position on. But we want voters to be well-informed of their First Amendment rights to be associated with a party or no party affiliation of their choosing," said Emily Cook, the communications director for Maine's Department of the Secretary of State.

Chavis, No Labels' co-chair, accused the moves of representing an "eerie similarity" to efforts to suppress the Black vote in the 20th century.

But Democrats backed up officials in Maine and Arizona, and strategists swatted away concerns on whether the roadblocks are politically motivated -- saying they're just fine with them if they're legal.

"No Labels is kind of the 'Seinfeld' of political parties. It's a party about nothing. And I think they're pretty clearly out there to sabotage," said one operative, Jared Leopold.

"Absolutely, Democrats should aggressively try to stop ballot access if there is reason to do so," he added. "There's a lot at stake here. And I think Democrats need to play hardball."

Wednesday, June 14, 2023 at 6:54AM by Tal Axelrod, ABC News Permalink