No Labels won’t run a third-party campaign after trying to recruit a centrist presidential candidate

NEW YORK (AP) — The No Labels group said Thursday it will not field a presidential candidate in November after strategists for the bipartisan organization failed to attract a high-profile centrist willing to seize on the widespread dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

“No Labels has always said we would only offer our ballot line to a ticket if we could identify candidates with a credible path to winning the White House,” Nancy Jacobson, the group’s CEO, said in a statement sent out to allies. “No such candidates emerged, so the responsible course of action is for us to stand down.”

The unexpected announcement further cements the general election matchup between the two unpopular major party candidates, Biden and Trump, leaving anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as the only prominent outsider still seeking the presidency. Kennedy says he has collected enough signatures to qualify for the fall ballot in five states.

No Labels’ decision, which comes just days after the death of founding chairman Joe Lieberman, caps months of discussions during which the group raised tens of millions of dollars from a donor list it has kept secret. It was cheered by relieved Democrats who have long feared that a No Labels’ ticket would fracture Biden’s coalition and help Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.

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The Wall Street Journal first reported No Labels’ decision.

“Millions of Americans are relieved that No Labels finally decided to do the right thing to keep Donald Trump out of the White House,” said MoveOn executive director Rahna Epting, a No Labels critic. “Now, it’s time for Robert Kennedy Jr. to see the writing on the wall that no third party has a path forward to winning the presidency. We must come together to defeat the biggest threat to our democracy and country: Donald Trump.”

Stefanie Spear, a spokesperson for Kennedy, said No Labels’ struggles were “testimony to the stranglehold of the corrupt two-party duopoly on American democracy.”

Kennedy announced earlier in the day that he had collected enough signatures to qualify for the general election in five states, including swing states Nevada and North Carolina. A super PAC backing his campaign, American Values 2024, says it has collected signatures for Kennedy in several other states, including battlegrounds Arizona and Georgia. Democrats are challenging the validity of signatures collected by the group, which is not legally allowed to coordinate with Kennedy.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks to supporters during an event celebrating Cesar Chavez's birthday, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks to supporters during an event celebrating Cesar Chavez's birthday, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
FILE - People with the group No Labels hold signs during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 13, 2013. The No Labels group says it won't field a presidential candidate in November after strategists for the bipartisan organization were unable to attract a candidate willing to seize on the widespread dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE - People with the group No Labels hold signs during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 13, 2013. The No Labels group says it won't field a presidential candidate in November after strategists for the bipartisan organization were unable to attract a candidate willing to seize on the widespread dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

No Labels said it had qualified for the ballot in 21 states, but ultimately, the centrist group could not persuade a top-tier moderate from either party to embrace its movement.

No Labels delegates voted overwhelmingly in March to launch the process of creating a bipartisan presidential and vice presidential ticket. But by then, No Labels had been rejected, publicly and privately, by many Democratic or Republican candidates.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who suspended her campaign for the GOP presidential nomination last month, had said she would not consider running on the No Labels ticket. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., ruled out running and former Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

Last month, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican candidate for president in 2024, said he wouldn’t run under the No Label banner, either.

The group had been weighing the nomination of a “unity ticket,” with a presidential candidate from one major party and a vice presidential candidate from the other, to appeal to voters unhappy with Biden and Trump.

“We are deeply relieved that everyone rejected their offer, forcing them to stand down,” said Matt Bennett of the centrist group Third Way, which had been fighting No Labels’ 2024 ambitions. “While the threat of third-party spoilers remains, this uniquely damaging attack on President Biden and Democrats from the center has at last ended.”

Biden supporters had worried No Labels would pull votes away from the president in battleground states and had been critical of how the group would not disclose its donors or much about its decision-making. No Labels never named all of its delegates and most of its deliberations took place in secret.

Dan DuPraw, a 33-year-old sales worker in Philadelphia who would have been a delegate to a No Labels convention, said the decision was disappointing but prudent. He trusts the No Labels leadership to make the right call.

“I understand why they made the decision, and I think it’s the right thing to do in this moment,” DuPraw said. “But I’m so disappointed that we get Trump and Biden again. I think it’s such a horrible thing for our country.”

DuPraw said he will now decide between Biden and Kennedy.

“I’m excited that there are other options than the two main parties,” he said.

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Cooper reported from Phoenix.

Cooper writes about national politics from Arizona and beyond for The Associated Press. Now based in Phoenix, he previously covered politics in Oregon and California.