Outsider Candidacies Concern Biden, Trump Supporters

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has announced he’s running for president as an independent. Cornel West made the same choice last week. While the politics are murky, the fresh frenzy of outsider candidates threatens to weaken both major parties as Democratic President Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump tighten their grip on their party’s presidential nomination. The parties’ concern isn’t so much that independent or third-party candidates would actually win the presidency, but that they could siphon support from the ultimate Democratic and Republican nominees, the AP reports. Democratic officials, especially, see the outsiders as a dangerous wildcard that harkens to 2016, when Green Party nominee Jill Stein may have enabled Trump’s razor-thin victory by winning a small portion of the vote.

Those associated with third-party efforts make no apologies. “The American people have been hungry for options. So, get ready,” Stein said in an interview. “What we’re seeing is a voter rebellion.” The rise of outsider candidates is a reminder of the volatility that hangs over the 2024 presidential election. Both of the major parties’ likely nominees are extraordinarily unpopular. Biden and Trump are running as the nation grapples with dangerous political divisions, economic anxiety, and a deep desire for a new generation of leadership in Washington. Much more activity is expected soon. Stein said the Green Party will likely make an announcement about its plans this month. No Labels expects to make a decision about its presidential nominee in the spring.

The efforts face obstacles. Simply qualifying for the ballot in every state will be a gargantuan task for outsider candidates without the benefit of existing political networks. Jim Messina, who managed President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and is now a Biden ally, didn’t play down the possibility that the new candidates could weaken Biden’s coalition. “The threat of a third party needs to be planned for seriously,” Messina said. Noting that no independent or third-party candidate has ever won even a single electoral vote—never mind the 270 needed to claim the presidency—he said Biden’s team still need to be aggressive in warning voters about the threat that long-shot outsider candidates present. “You need to tell people that a vote for a candidate without a path to 270 means they’re lighting their ballot on fire,” Messina said.

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Gallup released new polling last week showing that 63% of US adults agree with the statement that the Republican and Democratic parties do “such a poor job” of representing the American people that “a third major party is needed.” It was among the highest figures since Gallup first asked the question in 2003. Still, it’s far from certain that dissatisfied voters would ultimately cast a ballot next fall for Kennedy, West, or a centrist No Labels candidate. Historically, polls showing that people want a third party to exist have rarely translated into substantial support for actual third-party candidates, per the AP. Aware of the risk to their campaign, Trump allies have begun circulating opposition research against Kennedy designed to damage his standing among conservatives.

(Read more Election 2024 stories.)

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