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Democrats score victory with No Labels’s decision to call it quits

Democrats scored a tactical win this week after No Labels, a group that had been pushing for a potential third-party presidential bid, announced it was dismantling its effort this year.

Democratic strategists, party officials and activists had kept close tabs on the centrist group, trying to monitor their movements and assess their money as they sought to recruit a prominent rival to President Biden and former President Trump.

But after bypassing several of their deadlines to unveil a candidate, leaders finally said they’re calling it quits, prompting Democrats worried about a third-party threat to breathe easier — for now.

“Big news. And good to see,” said Doug Gordon, a Democratic operative and political strategist. “It shouldn’t have taken 30 people turning them down, and tens of millions of dollars spent, for them to realize what was clear all along, they had no path to winning and would only play the role of a spoiler.”

The “unity” group, which had been struggling publicly for months, appeared nearly in shambles before leaders said that they were stopping their involvement in the race. They mostly focused on getting on enough state ballots to give to a candidate who could challenge Biden and Trump, making their path easier to the general election. Their messaging emphasized the dissatisfaction among many Americans with the two leading choices.

Democrats in particular were concerned that the group would suck potential votes from Biden in November if they managed to find a leading candidate who appealed to independents and disaffected Republicans.

The group plowed through an exhaustive list of names, spanning the political spectrum but focusing intently on anti-Trump Republicans as a counter to the presumptive GOP nominee. After a number of recognizable figures like former Govs. Larry Hogan (R), Chris Christie (R) and Nikki Haley (R) turned them down, Democrats and Republicans both began to question if they had a realistic way to put forth a credible challenger. 

“No Labels has always said we would only offer our ballot line to a ticket if we could identify candidates with a credible path to winning the White House,” the group said in a statement Thursday. “No such candidates emerged, so the responsible course of action is for us to stand down.”

For many Democrats, the news came with a huge sense of relief, as well as validation that their opposition work had paid off. An assortment of operatives have focused on third-party threats this cycle, with several paying close attention to No Labels. They saw the group’s significant amount of money — which became a source of criticism for its opaque funding sources — as one indication that the group could push ahead with ballot efforts despite not having identified a candidate. 

Many Democrats and some “Never Trump” Republicans feared that leaders including CEO Nancy Jacobson and top pollster Mark Penn would move forward and keep extending their deadlines with just seven months until voters head to the polls. In response, strategists worked to mount opposition research and public relations campaigns against the group, arguing how their long-shot goal of unity would likely result in a boost to Trump.    

The anti-No Labels faction was one of the more fascinating coalitions formed in recent cycles. Influential figures on the progressive left joined with moderates in the party to fight against them, while formerly staunch conservatives and Republicans against Trump banded together as well. 

“No Labels: The haters said we couldn’t do it. And the haters? They were right,” quipped Leah Greenberg, the co-executive director of Indivisible, on the social platform X. “They even nailed the tiny details. Frankly, it’s amazing.” 

In a Friday call, Democratic leaders from Third Way, a top centrist think tank, and MoveOn, a progressive political advocacy organization, said that they shared an agenda of keeping No Labels off the ticket, a task that required months of coordination. 

“The threat was enormous,” said Matt Bennett, who serves as senior vice president of public affairs at the group he co-founded. Bennett spearheaded the effort and got MoveOn to join on. “For a long time, it appeared it was going to be very, very difficult to stop them.”

The group started eyeing a third-party attack effort dating back to when Robert F. Kennedy Jr., now an independent, was still a Democrat in the race. 

Bennett said he and allies decided that they had to “make the case publicly and privately to the people who mattered the most” about the potential No Labels had to help Trump. 

He told diverse figures in politics that “this was a path to nowhere” and that their operation was “in no way adequate to get across the finish line” to 270 electoral votes.

“This is not a safe place to park a vote,” he told people.

Soon after No Labels made the announcement to close up shop, it didn’t take long before the group’s leaders started expressing personal preferences about the two leading candidates. 

Joe Cunningham, the group’s national director, told Fox News in an interview: “I would vote for Biden over Trump.” 

While the No Labels question is no more, Democrats wasted no time before pivoting to focus on Kennedy, who’s now running in the third-party lane against a Biden-Trump rematch. 

Kennedy has been a lesser priority until recently. No Labels’s decision to stand down means the collective firepower of the Democratic operatives working to stop them is now being redirected to Kennedy. 

“Hopefully RFK Jr. comes to the same conclusion,” Gordon said. “And soon. Although, I doubt the Trump donors propping up his bid would allow that.”

Rahna Epting, the executive director of MoveOn, said in the joint briefing that her group harnessed the power of their extensive activist network, collecting 100,000 signed petitions from their members. 

“Just like we organized against No Labels, we’re going to organize against [Kennedy],” Epting said. “His run, like No Labels, is nothing more than a spoiler.”

While the spotlight is now on Kennedy, Democrats are still watching No Labels’s next moves. Cunningham coming out in favor of Biden could be the start of more anti-Trump engagement, Epting suggested.

“It is only sensible to use the tens of millions of dollars they raised to join to defeat Donald Trump,” Epting said. “This victory against No Labels is just the start.”

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