No Labels or no chance?
Moderates try to build momentum for a third party in 2024
Timothy Miller heard from some friends that the only moral choice for president was Donald Trump. Others insisted Hillary Clinton wasn’t all that bad. It was 2016, and Miller could not stomach either option. Everyone told him he had to vote Republican or Democrat, though, for his vote to matter. He registered as “No Party Affiliation” in Florida, hoping that might ease the strain from the two-party system. But in 2020, the vehemence from his friends grew worse.
“I’ve always had a hard time hearing or feeling like I belong to a particular political label,” Miller told me. “The political climate in 2020 was very ostracizing because as much as I lean towards the conservative side, I didn’t agree that this is the best candidate we can put forward.”
That year, Miller opted not to vote for president. Now a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, he calls himself a “political pilgrim” and is looking more closely and hopefully at a third-party option for 2024. And he is exactly the target demographic a possible new political party called No Labels hopes to win.
No Labels, while not yet officially recognized by the FEC as a national political party, has embarked on an aggressive campaign this year to win ballot access in states. This would introduce a third line on voters’ ballots in 2024 for an independent presidential candidate. Historically, third-party or independent interests do not perform well in any election. No Labels argues the tide is changing. But Democrats fear a strong third party showing would hand the presidency back to Donald Trump.
According to a recent AP-NORC poll, roughly three-quarters of the voting public, including 69 percent of Democrats, think President Joe Biden is too old to run for another term. And while Trump leads the Republican primary polls by more than 30 points, his odds look less favorable in a general election against Biden. An NBC poll in April found that most Americans do not want a rematch of Trump and Biden in 2024.
No Labels, led by former vice presidential candidate and long-time senator Joe Lieberman, says it exists to give voters less extreme political options. According to a memo, No Labels determined that 2024 is likely to be the most advantageous election year for a third-party candidate. In a survey of a sample of registered voters, No Labels found that 64 percent of respondents said they wanted different candidates than Trump or Biden, and 59 percent would be willing to vote for a unity ticket. No Labels says it is building an infrastructure to pull equal support from moderates in both parties and bring non-voters back to the polls, which could net them 286 electoral votes.
The first step is to get official recognition from election authorities in each state. They’ve achieved access in 10 states so far, but not without some pushback. In Arizona, Democrats sued the organization, arguing that the political party incorrectly filed its paperwork. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that No Labels is allowed to stay.
Arizona is a crucial target. As of July, roughly a third of voters registered as neither Republican nor Democrat. Roughly 0.8 percent list themselves as Libertarian and another 0.2 as No Labels.
“The Republican and the Democratic Party need to understand their marketplace and start appealing to what independents want because they’ll be the majority soon,” said Beau Lane, who ran for secretary of state in Arizona in 2022. He lost the Republican primary to a candidate Trump personally endorsed. Now he leads Make It Fair, a grassroots organization petitioning Arizona to hold open primaries.
Benjamin Chavis Jr. serves as one of the national co-chairs of No Labels. A self-described Democrat, he also helped bring together the House Problem Solvers Caucus in 2017 to push lawmakers to find bipartisan solutions. Now he says that a third party will help solve polarization in the country.
“The extremes on the far left and the extremes on the far right are dysfunctional,” Chavis told WORLD. “That’s why a lot doesn’t happen in Washington—because of the disproportionate influence that extremes are having on a political process. We are centrists. We believe in giving all Americans an opportunity to weigh in on public policy.”
Chavis said a No Labels president would represent the majority of the country and work with both parties. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has appeared at several No Labels events and expressed support for the group. The most moderate Democrat in the Senate, Manchin recently told Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval that he is “seriously considering” leaving the party. He told a No Labels forum in July that he has never lost an election and if he runs for president, he would win.
“Manchin is as close to the center as we have these days,” said John Aldrich, a political science professor at Duke University. “So he’s adrift and would be a perfect catch for a third party. Manchin would never win, but he might set in motion a way to make American politics less divisive and less polarized between the two parties.”
Aldrich started analyzing and writing about third-party candidacies in the 1980 election when John Anderson ran against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. He amusedly watched Ross Perot net a record 20 percent of voters in 1996 but not a single electoral vote.
“The truth is, you’re more likely as a third-party candidate to elect a candidate you would least like to win rather than rather than helping yourself,” Aldrich said.
This has analysts like those at Third Way, a center-left organization, worried that a No Labels candidate would snag crucial votes from Biden and hand the victory to Trump.
“It’s actually more common than not for folks to feel a bit disgruntled about the choices that have been offered,” said Kate DeGruyter, communications director for Third Way. “Even going back to 1980, or more recently, McCain and Obama’s race in 2008, nearly 50 percent of the people said that they wanted different options.”
Democratic-leaning independents are more likely to break off and vote for a third-party candidate than independents who lean Republican, DeGruyter said.
“That’s why there’s so much anxiety among the Democratic ecosystem about the impact of [a No Labels] candidacy,” DeGruyter said. “Trump and Biden are tied within the margin of error in a head-to-head. And when you add a moderate independent ticket, Donald Trump ends up as the winner by 5 points.”
Chavis told WORLD that No Labels will hold a convention in Dallas in April to discuss whether to nominate a candidate. He has maintained that the party is only interested in the presidency: “We’re not running a protest candidate, not a spoiler. If we don’t see a pathway to victory, then we would stand down.”
No Labels says it has identified 77 million likely voters for its party in 2024. The party and its political action committee have hosted focus groups to brainstorm how to run its first nominating convention. No Labels senior adviser Ryan Clancy told The Washington Post that the options include electing delegates or simply allowing attendees to select a nominee by majority vote. Some party leaders have also begun tapping moderate activists to be their state electors.
“We should learn from history. The party of Lincoln started out as a third party,” Chavis said. “And now polls show that Americans don’t want the two-party system confining them. That gives ground for No Labels to provide not just an alternative voice and pathway, but to listen and respond to the aspirations of American people.”
Back in Florida, Timothy Miller likes the idea of a moderate, No Labels candidate. His own governor, Ron DeSantis, is running for the Republican presidential nomination, but Miller is not so sure the Floridian’s policies prove DeSantis could work well at the national level.
“My hope is that any independent president would accomplish what we’ve really lost in the last couple of years: the ability to regularly work across party lines,” he told me. “I think the best option of doing that is with a party like No Labels. It probably wouldn’t be perfect, but it seems like the direction we’re headed is not one that is friendly towards someone who doesn’t necessarily vote along party lines.”