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Inside No Labels decision to plow ahead with choosing presidential candidates

Leaders of the moderate group No Labels decided Friday in a Zoom call with hundreds of supporters to move forward with selecting candidates for a third-party ticket that would challenge both President Biden and former president Donald Trump in November.

There was no discussion on the call of specific potential candidates, a critical piece of the puzzle that the group has not yet clarified. The group’s leaders said they would announce a selection process for presidential candidates March 14, with a possible convention to be held virtually no later than early April with as little as 48 hours notice.

“It is possible in the end we won’t find suitable candidates. We all realize that,” said Mike Rawlings, a former Dallas mayor and CEO of Pizza Hut, who ran the call and is overseeing the convention process. “We have always said it is going to take a lot of courage to do this. … We are not just going to settle for anyone.”

The decision marks a setback for Biden allies who have been working furiously for months to discourage the group and any potential candidates from plowing ahead with a project that they fear will help Trump at the polls.

Rawlings said there were 832 delegates from all 50 states on the call. The assembled group voted electronically on the question of “Should No Labels move forward in conversation with potential candidates for the unity presidential ticket?”

Rawlings said the result was one short of a unanimous “yes” vote, though he did not provide the specific total.

“Now we have formally made a decision that we are going to go forward,” Rawlings said. “Once this process is revealed we are going to be moving quickly sometime after March 14.”

He said a convention would happen virtually after that date. “You may only have 48 hours,” he told the other delegates, talking about the time between scheduling the virtual convention and holding it.

Preselected speakers from four regions spoke to the group, each voicing unanimous or near-unanimous support from No Labels supporters in their area to pursue the nomination. They summarized separate phone calls that had been held among regional No Labels groups. One person evoked the recent disappointment among some voters that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley had bowed out of the Republican nomination fight.

“Nikki Haley voters and common-sense voters, they are without a political home and they need somewhere to go,” said Dan DuPraw, a delegate from Pennsylvania, representing the Northeast. “‘We have to be in it to win it’ is the consensus for our region.”

A delegate from New Hampshire, Lyn Leddy, said her group was also supportive of the effort, adding that supporters trusted that No Labels would bow out if polling showed that the effort would “be a spoiler.”

“People feel very good about that,” she said.

“There is conviction that we can do better, that we must do better, that we need to move forward with this unity ticket for the good of the country,” said Idaho delegate Patty Leasure.

Before the meeting began, the group played the “No Labels Anthem,” by Akon, a song that was recorded in 2010 for the group. “Put your differences aside, man, if you can,” sings the Senegalese American singer known for the 2006 hit “Smack That.” “‘Cause there’s way too many people suffering.”

Several political leaders who had entertained the possibility of running on the No Labels ticket have announced in recent months that they will not join the effort, including Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and former Maryland governor Larry Hogan (R), who is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) has recently left open the possibility of heading a No Labels ticket after calling the effort “a fool’s errand” last summer when he was running for president as a Republican. Haley, who has not endorsed Trump, has repeatedly ruled out participating in a third-party bid.

Without a candidate in the offing or clear polling showing a path to electoral college victory, No Labels has struggled for months to come up with a plan for finding a face for their effort or crafting a public process to make the selection. The initial plan for an in-person nominating convention in Texas next month was scrapped, as were discussions for public forums in which potential No Labels contenders could showcase their visions.

Part of the challenge is the unusual structure of the presidential effort. The ballot access effort is being run by a nonprofit based in D.C., which does not disclose its donors. The group has seeded and controls a number of state operations that have petitioned for ballot access. But that group is barred by law from funding a candidate for president, and without a candidate, no new campaign organization has been created.

Another independent group, New Leaders ’24 PAC, has been founded by California Republican strategist Rob Stutzman, with the goal of raising $300 million to support the eventual nominees. The group could buy ads to support a candidate, but it is barred by law from most coordination with a campaign. In recent weeks, it has sought to raise smaller amounts of money through a separate organization that could seed a future No Labels effort.

The entire enterprise has been fiercely opposed by an aggressive network of Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans, who have been systematically pressuring potential No Labels candidates behind the scenes to stay away, while attacking the effort publicly as a risky gambit that would help elect Trump.

No Labels’ organizers have repeatedly said they would not run a candidate, or would pull their candidate midsummer, if it appeared that the campaign could not win outright and would help elect Trump.

Polling of unnamed “moderate independent candidates” has yet to show a clear path for winning the electoral college in a hypothetical matchup with Trump and Biden. But without named candidates, pollsters and political strategists say such polling is not likely to be predictive of a November election result.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post