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Democrats sound alarms over No Labels third-party bid

Pelosi is advocating against a third-party presidential run by a candidate backed by No Labels, in fear that they would imperil a Biden victory in 2024.
AFP via Getty Images
Pelosi is advocating against a third-party presidential run by a candidate backed by No Labels, in fear that they would imperil a Biden victory in 2024.

The group No Labels was founded in 2010 with the goal of encouraging bipartisan cooperation and countering America's angry politics. Thirteen years later, it has many Democrats in Washington angry — not to mention scared.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the group is planning to run a moderate Republican at the top of the 2024 presidential ticket.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she believes the group is not truly nonpartisan, but that it and its donors want to advance Republican policies.

"I think that our democracy is at risk, and I think that No Labels is perilous to our democracy," she warned. "I say that without any hesitation."

Pelosi spoke at Third Way, a centrist Washington, D.C., think tank that is also vocal in warning about a No Labels run.

In response to Pelosi, No Labels co-founder and former Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman had sharp words.

"Do you know what is 'perilous' to democracy?" he said in an emailed statement. "When leaders try to tell Americans what they are allowed to think and when they try to prevent competition from participating in the political process."

It's not just Pelosi: the White House is reportedly concerned that No Labels could end up electing Donald Trump, and former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt has started a super PAC with the specific aim of countering No Labels.

When No Labels started in 2010, co-founders William Galston and David Frum — assistants to former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively — aimed to have citizens monitor their elected officials.

"They will highlight those officials who reach across the aisle to help solve the country's problems and criticize those who do not," Galston and Frum wrote at the time. "Politicians, media personalities and opinion leaders who recklessly demonize their opponents should be on notice that they can no longer do so with impunity."

The group was intent on influencing politicians, not on electing its own candidates. But throughout 2023, it has been laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential run — working to get onto ballots in all 50 states and, in No Labels' words, "building a data vault to target and turnout the commonsense majority."

Trump has long had a commanding lead in Republican primary polls, making it increasingly likely that 2024 will be another Biden-Trump matchup. No Labels argues that because both President Biden and Trump are unpopular — both have net-negative favorability ratings — voters would be best served by a candidate they could feel more enthusiastic about.

It's not clear how much a third-party candidate would be a spoiler in 2024, nor is it clear which party they would draw more votes from. In an October NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, respondents were given a choice of Biden, Trump and three generic third-party candidates. The result was a dead heat between Trump and Biden — similar to their two-way dead heat the poll also found.

But a generic candidate is not the same thing as a potentially well-funded or well-known (or both) candidate — nor is it the same as a candidate associated with one particular party. No Labels' own polling found that a Republican candidate at the top of its ticket would fare better in swing states than a Democrat.

Galston, a No Labels co-founder, left the group earlier this year over fears that the group might help elect Trump. But he adds that, with independent candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West running, he's not sure what a No Labels candidate's effect might be.

"I have to say that since [leaving No Labels], the situation has gotten a lot more complicated. Because it's clear that a No Labels independent candidacy would not be the only one," he said. "They could have various kinds of influence on the outcome."

Pelosi told reporters that she draws a distinction between independent presidential candidates like Kennedy and a No Labels-backed candidate. She claimed the group is in fact aiming to push conservative ideology, under the guise of nonpartisanship.

"This isn't about a person running and putting forth his or her credentials," she said. "This is about an illusion being created, that it's about nonpartisanship and bringing people together."

In a statement countering Pelosi, No Labels pointed out that it has Democrats among its leadership, and that it supports bipartisan legislation.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.