May 10, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Manchin flirts with Iowa voters

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) may not have announced that he's running as a third-party candidate for president. But he's acting like it.

Driving the news: Manchin took time from his busy Senate schedule to tell a gathering of Iowa business and community leaders Wednesday in D.C. that he’s "fiscally responsible and socially compassionate" — another hint that he’s considering a potential third-party presidential bid.

  • Back in the Senate, he released a statement vowing to oppose all President Biden's EPA nominees over the administration's "radical climate agenda."
  • Manchin's recent no-mercy campaign against Biden could be related to his potential re-election bid in deep-red West Virginia — but it's also a sign of just how far he's willing to go to blow up the president's plans.

Why it matters: Iowa Democrats are furious with their national party for stripping their first-in-the-nation status on the presidential calendar. But Iowa voters still pride themselves on their ability — if not their right — to judge candidates up close and in-person.

  • Manchin played to that vanity, explaining his approach to leadership and legislation.
  • "I believe the government should be your partner. I'm not your provider," he told approximately 170 members of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.
  • "When people say, 'What's your politics?' I say I'm fiscally responsible and socially compassionate, which I think most Americans are,” he said in a 30-minute speech.

Between the lines: Manchin, perhaps his party's most endangered incumbent, didn’t explicitly tell the assembled Iowans he was leaving his party and running for president as an independent.

  • Asked by Axios about his presidential ambitions, Manchin said. "Honest to God, my main concern: How do we save this nation? How do we bring people together to protect the quality of life, the values that we've had that we were raised with? That's all.”
  • “You have got to fight for the reasonable, responsible middle and no one is doing that,” he said. “There's no options.”

The big picture: The country is hurtling toward a rematch between Biden and former President Trump, which polls overwhelmingly show most Americans don't want.

  • The group No Labels is raising money to build a presidential launchpad for a bipartisan ticket, with plans for their own nominating convention in Dallas in April 2024 and a strategy to get onto the ballot in all 50 states.
  • "We like to say one-ticket, one-time. This is not a third party, it’s one Democrat and one Republican. Everyone will have a seat at the table," Nancy Jacobson, the founder and CEO of No Labels, told Axios. “This is an insurance policy for a unique American moment."
  • "Right now we know people don’t want a rematch. There’s a huge opening, the likes of which we have never seen," Jacobson said. "If Biden moves to the center, there may not be an opening," she added.

What we're watching: Biden's polling numbers are at his presidency lows, with public approval at 40%, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

  • That's higher than a weekend poll from ABC News/The Washington Post, which had Biden at 36% approval and losing to Trump.

The other side: Prominent Democrats, including the centrist group Third Way, are horrified by the prospect of a third-party candidate and insist it would throw the election to the Republican nominee — potentially Trump.

  • The third-party campaigns of Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein 2016 are a raw memory for many Democrats, who blame them for the victories of George W. Bush and Trump, respectively.
  • "No Labels is arguing that they won’t act as a spoiler, but our view is that the risk is enormously high,” said Matt Bennett, the co-founder of Third Way. "And that’s the only impact they can have on the race because they can’t possibly win."
  • “We would hope and urge that Manchin makes it clear that he’s not interested in this third-party bid because it has absolutely no chance of success,” he said. “The sooner he makes that clear, the better.”

Zoom in: No Labels has a close relationship with Manchin and frequently invites him onto their conference calls with donors to expound on the issues of the day.

  • Last week, he sounded like a candidate on a No Labels call, according to Puck News, which obtained a recording of the conversation.
  • Manchin did not rule out joining a No Labels ticket on "Meet the Press" last month — but stressed he "would never intend to be a spoiler of anything."
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