The Manchin Factor


Last week’s announcement by Sen. Joe Manchin that he won’t run for another term in West Virginia — and will, instead, travel the country and look for opportunities to “mobilize the middle and bring America together” — was a significant blow to Democrats’ efforts to hold their narrow majority in the Senate.

By all accounts, the next senator from deeply red West Virginia will be a Republican. Coupled with significant challenges in several other states, the Democratic Party’s ability to hold its narrow Senate majority is at risk. Manchin’s move was also seen as a major boost for those seeking a third-party alternative in the upcoming presidential sweepstakes.

The majority of U.S. voters do not want a rematch of Joe Biden versus Donald Trump in next November’s presidential election. While reasons for opposition to a rematch vary greatly – from fear of a potentially authoritarian reign of a vindictive Trump to concern about Biden’s ability to function in or complete a second term – the bottom line has a large segment of voters searching for an alternative.

Republicans have a dwindling, but robust group of contenders seeking their party’s nomination. But they are dozens of points behind Trump in every poll taken. Absent Trump’s withdrawal from the race — which does not appear likely — he will be the Republican nominee following next July’s convention in Milwaukee. Similarly, for the Democrats, there is no meaningful alternative to Biden in the primary process, and he will be his party’s nominee following its convention in Chicago unless he steps aside.

Faced with that reality, increasing focus has turned to the potential of a third-party candidate. We have written before about No Labels, a centrist group committed to running an alternative candidate if the presidential race is a Trump-Biden rematch. No Labels has substantial financial backing and is actively engaged in efforts to qualify to run its presidential ticket in states across the country.

Separately, a group has formed to urge retiring Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Manchin to run for president and vice president, respectively, on a unity ticket. Although No Labels says it has no involvement in the Romney/Manchin effort, it welcomed it.

Third-party candidates have never won a presidential election. But there is something about the early polling that tells a potentially different story. According to last week’s New York Times/Sienna poll regarding a Trump versus Biden race in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Trump is ahead of Biden in three states, tied in two, and trailing by two points in the fifth. Overall, the poll numbers suggest that Trump is leading Biden by an average of two points in the five states.

But the real news in that poll was the astonishing support for independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — who was favored over Trump or Biden by an average of 24% of the registered voters polled in the five states.

If one in four voters favors a conspiracy theory proponent — that coronavirus vaccines were developed to control people via microchips; that childhood vaccines cause autism; that antidepressants are linked to school shootings; and that the CIA killed his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy — imagine what the numbers might be for a sane, centrist alternative.

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