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Dems fret a third-party presidential bid. The numbers show why.

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Former president Donald Trump, and President Biden.
Former president Donald Trump, and President Biden.Getty Images; AP

If it’s TUESDAY… Drones strike Moscow, causing damage to some buildings… Biden White House, House GOP leaders work to sell debt-ceiling deal reached over the weekend… Newly minted presidential candidate Ron DeSantis heads to Iowa… GOP ad war kicks off at record-setting pace… And impeachment trial of Texas AG Ken Paxton set to begin no later than August.

But FIRST... The ultimate size of the third-party presidential vote might be one of the most important — and decisive — 2024 stories to follow over the next 17 months.

Especially if the general election turns out to be a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. 

In 2016, 6% of all voters cast ballots for third-party and write-in candidates, with Libertarian Gary Johnson getting more than 3% of the national vote and Green Party nominee Jill Stein capturing more than 1%.

 But in 2020, that share fell to 2%.

The difference, Democrats say, made it easier for Trump to win ‘16 but not in ‘20 — by changing the threshold the major candidates needed to reach to win key battleground states, from 47% and 48% in 2016, to 49% and 50% in 2020. 

And the numbers illustrate why Democratic groups want to keep the third-party vote share as small as possible, including working to keep the well-financed third-party group No Labels off the ballot in battleground states.

When comparing the results from 2016 and 2020, what stands out is that Trump’s vote share (nationally, in key battleground states and in key counties) stayed virtually the same. What changed is that Biden grew the Democratic Party vote share by 2 to 3 points across the board, while the protest vote for other candidates dropped.

“There is no doubt at all that Stein and Johnson cost Clinton the election in 2016, and a credible third-party vote could do the same to Biden in 2024,” said Matt Bennett, the executive vice president of public affairs at Third Way, a centrist Democratic group opposing No Labels’ effort to enter next year’s presidential contest.

But No Labels and other third-party groups say there should be more choices for voters, especially when polls show supermajorities don’t want either Biden or Trump to run.

“Two-thirds of the public doesn’t want the election we’re probably going to get,” said Ryan Clancy, No Labels’ chief strategist.

Bottom line from the numbers: The third-party vote being anywhere between 4 to 8 points could hurt Dems the most. But if it’s higher than that (like we saw in 1992), it could more of a jump ball. 

Go to for more on our deep-dive on the third-party vote — and how it could shake up 2024.

Headline of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is ... 99

That’s the number of pages that make up the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the deal to raise the debt ceiling and implement some spending cuts that President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached over the weekend. 

The deal raises the debt limit until 2025, and it includes spending caps — limiting military spending to $886 billion and nonmilitary discretionary spending to $704 billion in Fiscal Year 2024, and $895 billion and $711 billion, respectively in Fiscal Year 2025, per NBC News’ Sahil Kapur. 

McCarthy said the House would vote on the measure on Wednesday, but both parties’ leaders are facing skepticism from the rank-and-file, per NBC’s Kapur, Julie Tsirkin and Frank Thorp V.

Other numbers you need to know today

At least 16: The number of people dead from shootings across the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend.

52%: The portion of votes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won in a presidential runoff election over the weekend, securing his re-election.

60: The number of Texas House Republicans who voted to impeach Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday (61 Democrats also voted to impeach him, per the Texas Tribune). 

63%: The share of Americans who say the Supreme Court “should not block colleges from considering race or ethnicity in their admission systems,” per a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

8.5: The number of years that a member of the Oath Keepers, Jessica Watkins, was sentenced to prison on Friday for her actions during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

54: The number of years since Rep. Dean Phillips’ father was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, a site that Phillips visited for the first time this year.

29.8 million: The number of foreign-born workers in the U.S. in 2022, up 6% from the year before, Axios reports. 

32.9: The number of maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births in the U.S. in 2021, up from 20.1 per 100,000 in 2019, the New York Times reports.

Eyes on 2024: GOP ad war kicks off at record-setting pace

The fight for the Republican presidential nomination is already breaking ad-spending records as the confluence of well-funded candidates and a proxy war of big-money outside groups have hit the airwaves. So far, more than $32 million has been spent on ads in the race this year, per the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. 

The pace is historic — Democrats in 2019 didn’t cross the $30 million ad-spending threshold (like Republicans did last week) until July. And Republicans in 2015 didn’t hit $30 million in ad spending on their open presidential nominating fight until October of that year.  

And the massive escalation comes as candidates have taken great lengths to fill their super PAC coffers and woo mega-donors behind the bids, gearing up for a costly fight. 

Read more on  

In other campaign news… 

A split on pardons for Jan. 6 rioters: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis told a conservative talk show he would have his staff look into pardons on “day one” of his presidential term, including for those prosecuted related to the 2021 attack on the Capitol, and didn’t rule out the idea of pardoning Trump if he’s charged. New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu told CNN he wouldn’t do that, but DeSantis’ opinion is “not disqualifying.”

Get by with a little help from his friends: NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald reports on how Biden will be leaning on surrogates ahead of his re-election bid. 

DeSantis’ takes: DeSantis criticized the deal reached over the weekend to raise the debt ceiling and avert default, saying during a Fox News appearance that the country “will still be careening towards bankruptcy.” DeSantis also said recently that he would work to repeal the so-called First Step Act, a criminal justice overhaul passed during Trump’s administration. 

All eyes on Iowa: DeSantis is heading to Iowa Tuesday to kick off his presidential campaign Iowa, and the Washington Post reports that DeSantis and his allies see an opening in the Hawkeye State. Meanwhile, Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, who doesn’t plan to endorse a candidate in the primary, is stepping into her role hosting GOP candidates and shaping the future of her party, Politico reports. 

Trump talk: As Trump’s hush money case moves forward, prosecutors said they have evidence that includes a recording of Trump and a witness, per a recent court filing, NBC News’ Adam Reiss and Dareh Gregorian report. 

Sununu watch: Sununu said over the weekend that he will likely make a decision on whether to run for president “in the next week or two.”  

Super for Christie: The New York Times reports that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s allies have formed a super PAC to bolster his expected presidential bid, which he could make official in the next two weeks. 

Scott on the air: South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott’s presidential campaign launched two new TV ads, a 30-second spot and a 60-second spot, both featuring footage of his campaign launch speech, per AdImpact. 

California jockeying: NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald and Alicia Victoria Lozano unpack the “ugly proxy war” playing out in California between the three Democrats competing to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein, amid questions about whether Feinstein should remain in the Senate.   

Ohio standoff: The GOP’s effort to stymie an abortion rights constitutional amendment is heading to court, NBC News’ Adam Edelman reports.  

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world?

Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law that bans teachers from talking about gender identity and sexual orientation with students before the sixth grade. 

The Pentagon has increased its security measures to make sure classified documents aren’t being taken out, in the wake of Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira’s arrest over leaking classified documents online.