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No Labels snags Sen. Joe Manchin for event, stoking talk of presidential run

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) plans to headline an event in New Hampshire next week sponsored by the bipartisan group No Labels, a move that has stoked speculation that he could mount a third-party presidential bid in 2024 that Democrats fear could be damaging to President Biden.

Manchin is scheduled to appear Monday at the group’s “Common Sense” town hall at St. Anselm College alongside former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R). No Labels is eying a potential “unity” ticket in 2024, though organizers say no decision has been made.

Manchin, a former honorary co-chair of the group, has not announced whether he is seeking reelection next year for his Senate seat and has not ruled out an independent 2024 White House bid — a prospect that set off alarm bells among Democrats, who fear he could draw support from Biden and tip the election to former president Donald Trump or another Republican nominee.

“It is clear that most Americans are exceedingly frustrated by the growing divide in our political parties and toxic political rhetoric from our elected leaders,” Manchin said in a statement provided by No Labels on his appearance. “Our political discourse is lacking engaged debates around common sense solutions to solve the pressing issues facing our nation.”

The statement did not elaborate on his 2024 plans.

In a brief interview Wednesday with CNN on Capitol Hill, Manchin said, “I haven’t ruled out anything or ruled in anything.” CNN said he downplayed the notion that the visit signaled presidential ambitions.

Manchin, among the most conservative of Senate Democrats, has shown a willingness to break with his party on some key issues and has been critical of Biden on several fronts in recent months on energy and fiscal policy, among other issues.

His Senate seat is top target for Republicans as they try to retake the chamber next year. Trump won in West Virginia by nearly 39 percentage points in 2020.

No Labels, fearing the possibility of a 2024 rematch between Biden and Trump, launched what it dubbed an “insurance policy project” for 2024, which would offer a third-party candidate “under the proper environmental conditions.” The ticket would likely feature a Democrat and a Republican in presidential and vice-presidential slots, the group has signaled.

Huntsman, who ran for president as a Republican in 2012, alluded to New Hampshire’s position as an early nominating state in a statement provided by No Labels.

“New Hampshire has long occupied a unique place in American politics, which makes it a special place to discuss the most important issues facing our country,” Huntsman said. “There’s never been a more critical time to remind ourselves that we are all Americans.”

No Labels said its event in New Hampshire with Manchin and Huntsman will “serve as an opportunity for the American public to see two leaders practice the bipartisanship they preach — taking part in meaningful dialogue across party lines to address the pressing issues facing our country.”

The group said that others appearing at the event will include former senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.); former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory (R); former congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.); and former congressman Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.).

The maneuvering by No Labels to possibly field a presidential ticket has prompted sharp pushback from Democrats.

Former House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt is planning to launch a new bipartisan group next week to oppose the No Labels third-party presidential effort, according to people familiar with the plans.

In late March, the Arizona Democratic Party filed a lawsuit to block No Labels from ballot access in that state on procedural grounds.

Matt Bennett of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way has argued that the plot is “going to reelect Trump,” and Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has accused No Labels of wanting “to play the role of spoiler.”

Dan Pfeiffer, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, argued in a recent blog post that a Manchin campaign is “one obvious way that Trump could win.”

Manchin’s criticism of Biden has included a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in March in which he castigated him for refusing to sit down with “fiscally minded” Republicans to negotiate over the nation’s debt limit at that point and accused him of allowing “unelected ideologues” in his administration to thwart the will of Congress on energy policy.

“Mr. Biden was elected to lead us all to solve problems,” Manchin wrote. “We can’t allow them to be made worse by ignoring them. The president has the power, today, to direct his administration to follow the law, as well as to sit down with congressional leaders and negotiate meaningful, serious reforms to the federal budget.”

In the op-ed, Manchin, a champion of the coal industry, complained that “bureaucrats” are subverting energy-related provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act — sweeping climate and health-care legislation he negotiated with the White House.

Michael Scherer contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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