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Where the 2024 third-party ticket stands

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

A group trying to organize a centrist, third-party presidential bid has taken another key step toward fielding a ticket this fall. About 800 delegates from the organization No Labels voted on Friday to proceed with forming a so-called unity ticket that would include a Democrat and a Republican running together. And with a close presidential race expected, Democrats especially are worried that third-party candidates could swing the election to the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

To talk more about this, we called up Alex Roarty, a reporter with the new nonprofit political news site NOTUS. Alex has extensively covered the twists and turns of No Labels' quest to field a presidential ticket. Thanks for joining us.

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ALEX ROARTY: Scott, a pleasure to be here.

DETROW: And I should just say in full disclosure, when we are not reporting the news, we are pretty good friends.

ROARTY: (Laughter) We believe in transparency in this and all journalism platforms.

DETROW: The people now know. Let's start with this, though - what are No Labels' goals here?

ROARTY: So I mean, No Labels' goal is pretty straightforward. They want to win the presidential election in 2024, right? And they want to do so by, in their view, giving the American voters an alternative to Joe Biden and Donald Trump. You know, the whole place that they're coming from is, look, if you look at polls - and they're not wrong about this - you know, the American people are dissatisfied with the idea of another Trump-Biden election. And the polls, you know, do show that certainly, in the abstract, people are frustrated by that. They do wish that there was a different election that we would have this year between two different candidates. And so No Labels thinks that they can capitalize on that and offer that third alternative, a new candidate.

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DETROW: Let's talk about the candidates for a minute because they don't have a ticket yet. They tried to recruit Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat. He said he wasn't interested. They tried to recruit former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican. He also said no. They put out an overture to Nikki Haley. She said no. Where do their attempts stand right now?

ROARTY: Well - and this has been the million-dollar question all around. And I can tell you, having reported on the group, even people close to the group - I mean (ph), and critics of the group, who, we should say, are watching this effort very closely - you know, the potential list of candidates has been a mystery. Now, we had some potential light shed on this. Geoff Duncan, the former one-term lieutenant governor of Georgia, is now a name that is being circulated. He is someone who fits the bill as far as he has been very vigorously anti-Trump in Georgia, despite the fact that he's a conservative Republican or, I think he might say, because he is a genuine conservative Republican. He has been in opposition to Donald Trump. He actually, during an interview on CNN last year, suggested he had the moral compass of an axe murderer. So I think we can say he is...

DETROW: Trump, not himself.

ROARTY: ...Anti-Trump. Yes - that Donald Trump has the moral compass of an axe murderer. So he's perfectly willing to be critical of Donald Trump. That much is clear. He is the name that has emerged. I think the obvious natural question here, Scott, is whether or not a - again, a one-term lieutenant governor - he doesn't currently hold office. He left office in 2023. Is that the kind of person who can pull off this, you know, near-unprecedented feat?

DETROW: Yeah. What do we know about who's funding No Labels?

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ROARTY: Not much is the truth. A lot of this process hasn't been transparent. And it is, you know, very starkly different than what you see from the Democratic or Republican parties a lot of times, who are subject to rules and regulations from the Federal Election Commission. So we don't know is the simple answer.

DETROW: All right. But it's not just No Labels, right? There are other third-party candidates out there. It seems like way more than you have in the typical election, which maybe makes sense given the dissatisfaction with the two general party nominees. You've got Robert Kennedy Jr. You've got Cornel West. You've got Jill Stein. How big of a factor could these independent bids be?

ROARTY: I think, you know, could be a bigger factor than we're even used to seeing in a presidential election. And I think that's both due to the number of candidates running, as you've mentioned. I think it's also due to the - you know, the expectation - and I think it's the correct expectation - that this is going to be a very close presidential election. You know, look, Joe Biden barely defeated Donald Trump last year if you look at the Electoral College and the number of votes that he won in places like Arizona or Georgia or Wisconsin. You know, we're talking about tens of thousands of votes, you know, as the margin of victory there. And in theory, you know, if Jill Stein is on the ballot and Cornel West is on the ballot, and you throw in Kennedy, and you throw in the No Labels candidate, well, it's not hard to envision how, you know, collectively, all of those candidates could earn well north of 10,000 votes...

DETROW: Yeah.

ROARTY: ...You know, potentially much more than that. And so they really could have a significant effect. And look, here's the concern for Democrats - right? - because a lot of this concern is concentrated among Democrats that Joe Biden, for him to beat Donald Trump, he needs to win voters who really don't like either candidate. They don't like Trump, but they really don't like Biden either. But ultimately, when forced to pick between the two, they're going to pick Joe Biden. And we saw this in the polling of the 2020 presidential election. That's - in theory, it looks like that's why Joe Biden won in 2020. He won those people who didn't like either candidate, but they eventually, you know, when forced to pick between the two, they pick Biden.

DETROW: That's Alex Roarty, a reporter with the new political nonprofit news site NOTUS. Thank you so much.

ROARTY: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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