Senator Joe Manchin teased a third-party presidential run at a No Labels event Monday, even as questions linger about whether the self-styled centrist group has the necessary funds to mount a successful challenge in 2024.
Voters in the greater New Hampshire area gathered at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester for a question-and-answer session with the West Virginia Democrat and former Utah governor John Huntsman (R., Utah). Both Manchin and Huntsman flirted with the prospect of potentially running together on a "unity ticket," should they believe voters are unhappy with the Democratic and Republican Party options in 2024.
But Manchin was characteristically coy about his presidential ambitions.
"I’m not here running for president tonight. I’m not," the centrist Democrat said at the town hall’s conclusion. "I’m here trying to basically save the nation. I’m more concerned now than I’ve ever been concerned in my lifetime."
Whether No Labels—which says it will announce by Super Tuesday next year whether it plans to run a candidate—has the resources to mount a serious challenge to the two-party system is unclear. The group has repeatedly said it will spend up to $70 million on a campaign, but controlled just $10 million in assets at the end of 2021.
"We’re going to gain, as an insurance policy, ballot access," former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory (R.) said at the start of the event.
As of June, No Labels has gained ballot access in just four states. The Arizona Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in March to remove No Labels from the 2024 ballot. That litigation is still ongoing.
Still, the prospect of No Labels offering voters a viable third option in 2024 has caused severe anxiety among many Democrats, who are convinced such a scenario would hand the 2024 election to former president Donald Trump. A group of veteran Democratic operatives and former White House staffers, including former chief of staff Ron Klain, met with No Labels last month to implore the group to ditch their plans.
Manchin and Huntsman brushed aside fears from Democrats that a No Labels presidential ticket would hand the election to Trump, who holds a wide lead in the Republican presidential primary. Huntsman compared efforts by Democrats to intimidate No Labels out of the 2024 race as something out of "China or Russia."
"This is the latest talking point," Huntsman said when asked about one poll that showed a third party would siphon more votes away from Biden than Trump. "The only element of American society that hasn’t been transformed … is politics."
For most of the town hall, Manchin and Huntsman discussed the issue of partisanship in Washington, D.C. Partisan gridlock, as well as both parties allegedly playing to their respective bases, has stopped any serious efforts to tackle the nation’s record-high debt.
Manchin, who has not yet announced whether he will seek another Senate term, said Democrats are "putting the cart in front of the horse" over whether he will run for president. But, Manchin said, if he won, he wouldn't cost Biden anything.
"I’ve never spoiled a race," he continued. "If I get into the race, I’m going to win."