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How third-party and independent candidates could threaten Democrats and Republicans in 2024

NEW YORKRobert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and scion of the storied Democratic dynasty, is expected to launch an independent or third-party presidential bid on Monday. Cornel West, a philosopher and Black social leader, made the same choice last week. And No Labels, a new political party, is intensifying candidate recruitment efforts.

While the politics are murky, the fresh frenzy of outsider candidates threatens to weaken both major parties as President Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump tighten their grip on their party’s presidential nominations.

There’s little concern that the independent or third-party candidates would actually win the presidency, but they could siphon support from the ultimate Democratic and Republican nominees. A heightened sense of concern is spreading especially among Democratic officials, who see the outsiders as a dangerous wildcard that harkens back to 2016, when Green Party nominee Jill Stein may have enabled Trump’s razor-thin victory by winning a small portion of the vote.

“The American people have been hungry for options. So, get ready,” Stein said in an interview. “What we’re seeing is a voter rebellion. It’s been a long time coming.”

The rise of outsider candidates is an acute reminder of the intense volatility — and uncertainty — that hangs over the 2024 presidential election. Both of the major parties’ most likely nominees — Biden and Trump — are extraordinarily unpopular. They’re running as the nation grapples with dangerous political divisions, economic anxiety and a deep desire for a new generation of leadership in Washington.

Kennedy will outline his plans in Philadelphia on Monday. Stein said the Green Party will likely make an announcement about its presidential aspirations later this month. No Labels, meanwhile, plans to make a formal decision about its presidential nominee in the spring.

The efforts face steep hurdles beyond winning more than a small fraction of voters. 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 prominent Biden ally, didn’t downplay the possibility that the new candidates could weaken Biden’s coalition.

I am a campaign manager so I am wired to plan for everything and panic about nothing, and 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 and his team still need to be aggressive in warning voters about the threat that long-shot outsider candidates present.


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