Thursday, November 09, 2023


This is not a political earthquake:
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) announced Thursday he would not seek reelection in 2024, scrambling Democrats’ plans to hold onto their Senate majority in 2024 and raising their fears that he could get involved in the presidential race as a third-party candidate.
Did Democrats actually have plans based on the possibility that Manchin might win reelection? They shouldn't have, because that was never going to happen: Manchin trails the likely GOP candidate for the seat, Governor Jim Justice, by 22 points, 13 points, and 13 points in the three polls of the race conducted this year. He represents a state Donald Trump won by 39 points in 2020.

And surely it occurred to them before now that he might run for president -- weren't we talking about this possibility in the spring, when Manchin spoke on a No Labels conference call with donors, and then again last summer, when he appeared at a No Labels event?

But we've been told recently that No Labels wants a Republican at the top of its ticket. Last month, The New York Times reported:
The group’s chief executive, Nancy Jacobson, has told potential donors and allies that the No Labels candidate will be a moderate Republican, according to three people familiar with the conversations. That decision would rule out Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia....
That makes sense -- the mostly Republican donors to No Labels want one of their own as president, and Jacobson may have them convinced that the No Labels candidate can actually win.

Also, the group insists that it doesn't want to help elect Donald Trump, and it recently presented data showing that a Democrat at the top of the No Labels ticket could do just that:
The key slide in No Labels’ presentation shows data from eight swing states from the polling firm HarrisX. In a two-man race, it says, Mr. Trump would lead in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin; Mr. Biden would lead in Pennsylvania; and Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina would be tossups, with Biden leads within the margin of error. If Mr. Biden won the tossups — or even the tossups minus Nevada — he would win the election, assuming every other state voted as it did in 2020.

A No Labels ticket led by a Democrat would throw seven of the states to Mr. Trump, ensuring his election, according to the group’s data. But a No Labels ticket led by a Republican would lead in Nevada; be competitive in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin; and make Florida and Georgia tossups between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump.
But we don't know whether No Labels believes its own numbers, and whether the group and its donors really fear a second Trump term. (I'm sure they'd greatly prefer it to a second Biden term.)

If we take the group at its word, Manchin is dropping out of the Senate to be a running mate on a longshot presidential ticket. The person at the top of the ticket might be Larry Hogan, the former governor of Maryland, who was popular with the state's Democrats, and who is definitely No Labels-curious.

But there are a couple of complicating factors here. Manchin is a Democrat, but many Democrats across the country despise him. Hogan is a Republican, but Democratic voters seem to like him. Despite what the No Labels polling says, it's possible that Manchin at the top of the ticket could draw more Republican voters and Hogan at the top of the ticket could draw more Democrats.

I don't know what the plan is here. I know there's concern that the real No Labels plan is to prevent either Trump or Joe Biden from winning 270 electoral votes. This would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state (not each House member) would have one vote. There are more majority-Republican state delegations than major-Democratic state delegations, so Trump would undoubtedly win.

But that presumes that a No Labels candidate could win at least one state -- something no third-party candidate has done since George Wallace in 1968. And the presence of other candidates -- Robert Kennedy Jr., Cornel West -- means that we have no idea what could happen (although it's highly unlikely that Kennedy and West will do as well as they're currently doing in the polls -- Kennedy is currently average 15.3% in four-candidate polling, and West is averaging 3.8%). We also don't know how successful Kennedy and West will be in getting on state ballots. Oh, and to complicate matters further, Jill Stein just announced that she's running as a Green again.

This election won't look like other elections. The two major-party candidates are widely disliked. In 2020, if you dreaded the possibility of another Trump term, you voted for Biden; this year, you'll have many other high-profile choices. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, Kennedy beat Trump and Biden among 18-to-34-year-olds; in that notorious New York Times/Siena poll, Kennedy led among swing-state voters aged 18 to 29 and was slightly ahead in the 30-to-44 age range. I'm looking forward to some five-way polls, because this really could be a five-way race. I'm not sure who benefits from that. It's possible that No Labels and Kennedy will draw more or less equally from Trump and Biden, and West might be less of a factor (primarily because he may have the toughest time getting on ballots, since he'll have little or no fat-cat money). But who knows?

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