Manchin stokes Democratic speculation for 2024 with No Labels event

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is causing a stir among Democrats as his extended flirtation with a third-party presidential run is set to resurface when he headlines an event for No Labels — despite concerns that a possible run would boost former President Trump.

Manchin will headline an event for the middle-of-the-road group — which has been pushing a potential “unity ticket” as a third option in the presidential race — in New Hampshire on Monday.

The possibility of third-party candidates drawing votes has Democrats worried, but they are especially concerned Manchin, who is up for reelection in 2024, could deliver a double blow to the party: a presidential bid that harms President Biden next year and virtually hands a key Senate seat and potential majority in the chamber to the GOP.

“Joe is America’s biggest political tease,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told The Hill. “And I trust that he’ll make a judgment to run for reelection in West Virginia. I hope he will.”

For much of the first two years of Biden’s presidency, Manchin held the keys to unlocking his agenda in the upper chamber, to the chagrin of many of his colleagues. Now, he could hold the keys to Democrats’ attempts to keep a Senate majority.

Manchin will appear alongside former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) at St. Anselm College in the first of a series of “Common Sense” town halls No Labels is hosting. The incumbent senator said in a statement that most Americans are “exceedingly frustrated by the growing divide in our political parties and toxic political rhetoric from our elected leaders,” adding that he hopes discussions of this kind can be a model for voters.

“Our political discourse is lacking engaged debates around common sense solutions to solve the pressing issues facing our nation,” he said. “I am looking forward to modeling this type of conversation with my good friend, Gov. Huntsman, and the No Labels community.”

Polls show a third-party bid by a No Labels candidate could create a real headache for Biden, particularly if Trump is the GOP nominee. According to a survey of swing states released by a group of operatives from both parties who are seeking to derail a No Labels candidacy, Biden leads 52 percent to 48 percent in a head-to-head matchup.

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However, Trump jumps into the lead over the president by a point (40 percent to 39 percent) when a No Labels candidate is factored in. The hypothetical third-party candidate would receive 21 percent, with 13 percent being drawn from Biden and 8 percent coming from Trump.

“It’s pretty clear that a No Labels candidate would help reelect Donald Trump, and I hope anybody who considers it recognizes that that’s a very possible outcome,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), declining to specifically discuss Manchin. “That path is not a path to winning. It’s a path to spoiling the election for Joe Biden and electing Donald Trump.”

Manchin, for his part, has done little to staunch the speculation.

He said last month he was “not ruling anything in, not ruling anything out.”

Manchin has also ratcheted up his battle with Biden, who was soundly defeated in West Virginia in 2020. The West Virginia moderate has voted against a string of Biden nominees in recent months, including Jared Bernstein to become Biden’s top economic adviser and several judicial nominees.

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That continued Thursday as Manchin made official what much of Washington assumed and announced his opposition to Julie Su’s nomination to run the Department of Labor.

The third-party speculation, coupled with the questions surrounding a reelection effort and the uptick in opposition to nominees on Capitol Hill has pushed him even further into the spotlight, a position Manchin has grown used to.

“Remember the old adage that the most dangerous place is between Chuck Schumer and a camera? Joe Manchin has pushed Chuck Schumer aside,” one Democratic operative quipped. “For him, I think he will seriously consider running for president, and he’ll consider reelection and consider retiring.”

“He’s keeping his options open,” the operative noted.

Although a decision on a potential reelection bid isn’t likely to come until December or January, Manchin gave Democrats good news on the financial side Thursday in case he chooses that door. He reported that he raised nearly $1.3 million in the second quarter and an additional $400,000 for his Country Roads PAC.

That gives Manchin roughly $10.7 million in the bank toward a potential campaign against West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R), who could self-fund his operation and announced he raised nearly $1 million in two months after rolling out his campaign.

Manchin spent $9 million on his 2018 campaign, with money going further in the state than it will in other key Senate contests on the 2024 map. Nevertheless, there’s a reason Manchin is a top target of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and outside groups, which are likely to go all out to boot him from office.

“I dearly hope and pray that he will run for reelection to the Senate. He is a very talented West Virginia politician. Probably the only Democrat who could hold that seat in the Senate,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CBS News.

“He will not ultimately be successful if he runs for president,” he continued. “I hope he chooses the path where he will most be successful, which is reelection to his seat in the United States Senate.”

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