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Former lawmakers plan new group to stop No Labels presidential bid

The bipartisan effort is aimed at stopping a third-party push that many Democrats fear would hurt Biden and help Trump

Then-Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) at Project Angel Food's Angel Awards Gala in Los Angeles on Aug. 21, 2004. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
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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.

The new group has already commissioned private polling showing that a generic “moderate, independent third-party candidate” would pull more votes away from President Biden than former president Donald Trump in a hypothetical three-way race, all but assuring the Republican wins back the White House.

“No Labels equals Trump,” said Greg Schneiders, a former aide to President Jimmy Carter whose firm Prime Group has conducted the polling for the Gephardt group. “It is going to affect the race and it is going to affect it negatively for Biden, and it is probably going to elect Donald Trump.”

Stuart Stevens, a Republican consultant who has worked for the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, has also joined the effort, along with former senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.). A person familiar with the plans said the nascent effort is working to sign up more political leaders, will disclose their donors and plans to formally release their polling, which includes samples in seven swing states.

Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat who twice ran for president and now works as a lobbyist, declined to comment on the effort when reached by phone, saying only that more information would be public soon. Jones declined to comment.

The debut of the new effort comes as No Labels plans to release its own set of “common-sense” policy solutions on Sunday, followed by an event Monday at St. Anselm College in the early presidential primary state of New Hampshire.

The policy plans are intended to showcase the sort of platform that a nonpartisan candidate could use to disrupt the two-party system. No Labels, which does not disclose its donors, is pursuing state ballot access across the country, but the group does not plan to directly fund a presidential campaign if candidates are selected to run.

No Labels founding chairman Joseph Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut who ran for office both as a Democrat and independent, said the effort to stop the No Labels project was an effort to deny Americans options.

“They are really working overtime to prevent the voters from a choice,” he said. “We feel that the voters in this country deserve a third choice, a bipartisan choice. And I will also repeat that we will not be spoilers in this.”

Former Maryland governor Larry Hogan (R) and former House member Fred Upton (R-Mich.) also issued statements voicing continued support for the No Labels effort.

“Panicked Washington insiders in the Democratic Party who claim to oppose voter suppression are actively working to suppress the vote and to deny choice,” Hogan said.

Jones was a part of a large June brainstorming meeting of No Labels opponents at the D.C. offices of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank that has denounced the No Labels effort out of concern that it will help Trump’s reelection, according to people present at the event who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the event was private. Other participants in the June meeting included former senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and representatives of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, where Stevens also works.

Both the Gephardt group’s polling and polling conducted late last year by No Labels shows the “moderate, independent” generic candidate pulling about 20 percent of the vote in a three-way hypothetical contest with Biden and Trump. Both polls show that the third-party would pull more from Biden than Trump.

But No Labels officials have argued that support for the generic third-party candidate would probably grow, not shrink, once a candidate is named, given the higher number of Americans who tell pollsters they are not happy with a rematch of the 2020 presidential election. They plan to nominate a bipartisan ticket next spring only if polling shows a clear path to victory.

Schneiders argues that polling of generic candidates historically shows higher support than named candidates in ballot tests. “Normally, generic candidates have the advantage of being a Rorschach test and people believe what they are going to believe about them,” he said.

Former senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he has recently attended donor events for No Labels in Miami and New York as an observer and has not decided to support the group’s presidential efforts. He said the donors he met do not strike him as being interested in aiding Trump’s campaign.

“The last thing that this group wants to do is be known as the group that elected Donald Trump,” Corker said. He says a more likely outcome would be for the group to select a Republican as their presidential candidate, possibly even someone who ran earlier in the GOP primary, which could eat into Trump’s coalition.

“My sense is they will ultimately decide that their best chance of success is with a Republican center-right candidate,” he said. “And I just scratch my head at the Democrats having their hair on fire about this.”

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