On Thursday, the senator not only announced he would not campaign for a third term, but he also openly toyed with the idea of launching a third-party presidential bid, saying he would “travel the country and speak out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the community and bring Americans together.
This statement is a blow to Senate Democrats, whose majority is already extremely narrow. A White House official said the Biden team’s attempts to get Manchin to run again were made in an effort to maintain control of the Senate given that reality.
At the same time, the president’s team faces an already tricky path to re-election and Manchin has not ruled out running for the White House.
Manchin is just the latest politician to join the list of those running for president as an independent or third-party candidate, or planning to do so. Although new polls suggest that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would largely harm former President Donald Trump, fear is widespread within the Democratic Party that more liberal candidates such as Cornel West and Jill Stein could siphon votes from Biden . Several Democrats, including those close to the president, concede that Manchin could also take away some moderate and center-left votes from Biden.
“Any third-party unity ticket, quote unquote, a ticket that goes toward the middle, will intersect with the Biden coalition,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of the liberal group MoveOn. “A lot of people who came out for Joe Biden and against former President Donald Trump, a good portion of them were able to be persuaded to vote for a Joe Manchin ticket.”
Manchin’s political future has been the subject of intense interest in recent years, as he increasingly distances himself from Biden and his own party. In July, the senator visited the state of New Hampshire, at the start of the primary, for an event with No Labels, a centrist organization that has spearheaded plans to launch a third-party presidential ticket. He also spoke on a call with the group.
The No Labels Project, which won ballot access in a number of states, has sparked backlash among Democrats, who fear it could spoil Biden’s re-election chances. The Biden team’s position so far has been to largely ignore the organization. Privately, they expressed concern that a fractured field would largely benefit Trump, according to several people familiar with the discussions.
“Typically, third-party candidates take their cues from the president,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster for Biden’s 2020 campaign. But she explained that when it comes to Manchin, the extent of his impact on Biden depends on “how he presents himself” and whether he can participate in the election.
For now, the Biden campaign has outsourced its efforts to undermine No Labels to allied Democrats, reasoning that taking on the group itself could give it oxygen, a person familiar with its thinking said .
The White House and campaign aides aren’t panicking about Manchin, either. Some members of Biden’s team point to a nonprofit group Manchin recently started with his daughter, Americans Together, and believe the senator could travel under its banner and not enter the 2024 race.
There is a prevailing sentiment that while Manchin enjoys being in the spotlight, he wouldn’t risk something that could tarnish his legacy, like helping Trump return to power.
But some in the Biden world believe Manchin is clearly considering a presidential run and could further complicate an already highly unusual election, in which all independent candidates combined could garner double-digit support.
Biden praised Manchin in a statement Thursday, saying “Joe and I worked together to get things done for hard-working families.” He cited their collaborative efforts on the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, gun control legislation and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Manchin told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in person before his announcement that he was not running for re-election, according to Manchin spokesman Sam Runyon. He also called to tell Ricchetti the news. He did not speak to Biden “but appreciated his kind statement,” Runyon said.
Manchin’s departure from the Senate is an extremely big blow to Democrats, who were already facing a difficult cycle. Even though the Biden White House had its share of disagreements with the senator, it was universally acknowledged that he was the rare – perhaps the only – Democrat capable of surviving in a statewide race in West Virginia.
Jon Kott, a former adviser to Manchin, said he believed Manchin would have “circled” around his Republican opponent if he had decided to run for re-election.
Now, however, the questions around Manchin are turning to his presidential bid. Contrary to what some Democrats think, those close to the senator believe that it is not too late for him to enter the race and that access to the ballot would not pose a problem.
But some Democrats say Manchin would have trouble running for office, although a No Labels ticket could help.
No Labels did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement released Thursday, the group said Manchin is “a tireless voice for America’s common-sense majority and a longtime ally of the No Labels movement,” adding that he will decide by the start of the next year if he has to present a ticket.
Matt Bennett, co-founder of the center-left group Third Way, has been actively involved in the fight against No Labels. But he said he wasn’t concerned about Manchin running for president, in part because of press reports that No Labels would likely put a Republican at the top of the ticket.
“I’m not alarmed because he won’t show up with the No Labels ticket in box #2. They said they wanted a Republican at the top and he’s no one’s No. 2,” he said. “And the fact that he’s going to use his national platform and his voice while he has it, I think that makes sense.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that.
Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.