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Joe Manchin and Jon Huntsman flirt with third-party 2024 ticket in New Hampshire

The Democratic senator and the former Republican governor were on the trail with No Labels, the group laying the groundwork to field a third-party presidential campaign.
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MANCHESTER, N.H. — No Labels is taking another new, notable step advancing toward a potential third-party presidential bid in 2024, organizing a campaign-style event in New Hampshire on Monday featuring Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

The move comes as the Washington-based advocacy organization looks to recruit a Democrat and a Republican to form a bipartisan presidential ticket in 2024 — a prospect that could send an unpredictable jolt through the 2024 presidential race, which as of now is trending toward a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

No Labels’ founder and CEO, Nancy Jacobson, told NBC News that No Labels is near its fundraising goal of $70 million, which will go toward its efforts to gain ballot access for its would-be presidential ticket in all 50 states. No Labels is scheduled to hold a convention next April in Dallas, where it’ll formally nominate its presidential ticket. 

Manchin continued to leave open the door to a third-party presidential run with No Labels, repeatedly declining to rule it out in an interview with NBC News.

“It’ll be next year,” Manchin said about his timeline to decide what to do, meaning speculation about it (and his West Virginia Senate seat) will linger into 2024. 

“Let’s see where everybody goes. Let’s see what happens,” said Manchin, an outspoken critic of partisanship in Washington. “Maybe they’ll come to their senses and start doing the job they were elected to do.”

Many national Democrats fear that Manchin, who has often bucked his party and scaled back parts of his Democratic colleagues’ legislative agenda in Congress, could siphon votes from Biden if he or another prominent Democrat were to join a third-party ticket next year. 

One of the most striking differences between Biden’s win in 2020 and Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump four years earlier was the low share of voters who decided to pick a third-party candidate in 2020. The third-party vote share fell from 6% in 2016 to 2% in 2020.

And according to the NBC News exit poll, most of those who voted third-party in 2016 decided to back Biden four years later, helping deny Trump re-election. Now, Democrats worry that a growing third-party vote in 2024 would serve to lower the threshold Trump needs to win again — as in 2016, when 47% to 48% of the vote was enough for him to capture key swing states.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks with attendees at an event in New Hampshire on July 17, 2023.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks with attendees at an event in New Hampshire on Monday.Katherine Koretski/NBC News

Manchin dismissed Democratic fears that a No Labels-fueled presidential run would boost Trump.

“Nobody at No Labels that I’ve ever spoken to would ever be a spoiler,” Manchin said. “There is no spoiling going [on] here to give an advantage to one side or the other. We’re hoping both sides come to their sensible middle.”

“When are people going to say enough’s enough?” Manchin said about partisan politics. “We hear it every day. ‘Enough is enough. Can’t you work together? What about us? What about this great country of ours?’”

Manchin wasn’t the only party-bucking politician on the trail Monday: Republican Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China and Utah governor, also joined Manchin in New Hampshire. Ahead of their trip, No Labels heralded the pair as the headliners of its “Common Sense Townhall” Monday night at Saint Anselm College, a common waypoint for presidential contenders. The two spoke earlier at a diner in Manchester to a group of guests who received private invitations. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, speaks to a colleague just outside the chamber, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2023.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, speaks to a colleague just outside the chamber at the Capitol on June 13.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

Huntsman, who sought the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, told NBC News he has “no plans at this point” to run on a third-party ticket in 2024.

No Labels’ leaders, including former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a Democrat-turned-independent, and former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, continue to remain mum about possible candidates, though two sources familiar with the group’s deliberations told NBC News that the ticket could include individuals who have not previously been elected to public office.

Last week, businessman Mark Cuban told NBC News that he would not join the No Labels ticket but lauded the group’s plans as “very important,” adding: “I like that they are trying a new path. I think the two-party system is broken.”

A NBC News poll in June showed that 44% of voters nationally said they would consider voting for an independent or third-party candidate for president in 2024. 

And crucially, the poll found that Democratic-leaning voters are more open to the idea of backing such a candidate — illustrating why voices in the party have been so outspoken against No Labels’ 2024 plans.