New polls showing President Biden tied or trailing several GOP presidential candidates and deep concerns among voters over his age are stoking Democratic angst about third-party candidates “stealing” a victory in November 2024.
Democrats have long been worried that in a close race, a third-party candidate could be the difference between winning and defeat in hard-fought states such as Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin or even Florida.
But the new polling is exacerbating unease that liberal candidate Cornel West or a centrist contender backed by No Labels could end up being spoilers for Biden.
Groups on the left are among those expressing discontentment, arguing that the only candidates who will have a chance to actually win the White House are Biden and the eventual Republican nominee.
“The 2024 presidential election is a binary choice between Joe Biden and the MAGA GOP nominee,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, told The Hill on Thursday.
She pointed her criticism squarely at No Labels, which has seen an influx of attacks from all corners of the party in recent weeks. “That’s why we are so alarmed that, despite this urgent and unique moment of peril for our democracy, No Labels remains determined to push forward with a reckless 2024 third party bid.”
“No Labels has no theory to win and no infrastructure or plausible case to get to 270 electoral votes,” Epting added, sharing common sentiments among Democrats who see the effort as detrimental to a blue win.
One poll released by CNN this week has put a fine point on the Biden problem. While it’s presumed that the 80-year-old president will be the nominee, Democrats are coming around to the view that outside figures could damage his chances after he locks up the contest.
According to the survey, a whopping 67 percent of voters who identify as Democrats or lean left said that they’d prefer someone else as the nominee. At the same time, just as many voters believe Biden will ultimately nab the nomination, creating a difficult position for those helping to prop up an unpopular candidate.
Another data point also signals a potential issue: Biden is in close contention not only with former President Trump but with lesser-known candidates like former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who led him by several points.
Other polls separately show deep dissatisfaction over Biden’s age, with the majority of voters in recent Wall Street Journal and Associated Press/NORC surveys saying he’s too old to seek a second term in office.
The anxiety over third-party campaigns has grown in tandem with Biden’s relatively poor standing.
Democrats were reassured when he didn’t see a prominent primary challenger, but fears that someone without as much name recognition could run as a different party’s option have taken hold as candidates embark on the year leading to the general election.
West, a leftist aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who has a considerable grassroots following, is now running on the Green Party ticket, a political maneuver some progressives have found more concerning than his previous People’s Party identification.
The Green Party skews to the left of the progressive movement and is most recently remembered for the uproar it caused in 2016 when outsider Jill Stein ran as the party’s choice. Her bid caused what some Democrats saw as a nonviable alternative to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and helped aid a surprise Trump victory in some states. While Green Party supporters want more than a two-party system, mainstream Democrats view those third-party political efforts as generally beneficial to the GOP.
“Historically, third-party candidates have been a boost to Republicans. The same could be true with this cycle,” said Michael Starr-Hopkins, a Democratic campaign operative and commentator.
This season, moderates are frustrated with West as the newest Green Party option, with strategists now working to downplay his bid. While many respect his academic contributions, they also see him as a troublesome figure in an already tough cycle for Biden.
And while there’s anger directed toward the left, centrists are just as perturbed by their own flank. No Labels in particular has caused worries for moderates who see the same possible Green Party-style doomsday scenario playing out from their wing of the party.
“A third-party bid from No Labels is quite different from the current landscape of RFK Jr., Marianne Williamson and Cornel West running in the Dem primary,” said Ameshia Cross, a Democratic strategist. “Neither of the three have gained enough traction to be considered threats remotely to President Biden.”
“No Labels, though a highly conservative driven group, has the funding to run ads, and though a No Labels candidate or any third-party won’t make it to the White House, it could provide [an] off ramp in a tight race where pulling even a small percentage of voters could throw the election to the Republicans,” she said.
“A third-party candidate has no chance of becoming president,” Cross stressed.
The bipartisan group sees it differently. Ryan Clancy, chief strategist for No Labels, said the group is emboldened by the latest poll findings, saying that it shows a rejection of the Biden-Trump duality.
“The CNN poll reinforces a truth we have known for a long time now at No Labels: most Americans do not want a rematch of the 2020 election,” Clancy told The Hill in a statement. “There’s growing enthusiasm for another choice who can bridge the partisan divide that is tearing our country apart.”
“If No Labels ultimately offers its ballot line to an independent Unity ticket next year, it will be because we think it has a real path to the White House,” he added.
Skeptical Democrats, however, are still looking at ways to minimize the potential damage. Some are eyeing high profile surrogates as ways to help Biden squash voter curiosity about other candidates, regardless of whether it comes from the left or middle.
Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are sought after from progressives to get young people and infrequent voters inspired about Biden, and moderates are open to finding a similar vote-getter on their side.
“I believe Joe Biden will win reelection in a one-on-one race against Donald Trump or any other Republican nominee,” said Jim Kessler of the centrist Democratic group Third Way, which is working against third-party bids on both sides of the party. “But it may not be a one-on-one race.”
“A possible No Labels candidacy will require moderate voices to do the same thing from the center,” Kessler added.
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