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A political nonprofit courting centrists is alarming Democrats and Republicans alike by laying the groundwork to field an independent presidential candidate in 2024. Thus far, No Labels has gotten on the ballot as a political party in four states—Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon. Is Georgia next?
Not according to Brian DiNapoli, the co-founder of No Labels’ Georgia Chapter. DiNapoli, a Decatur resident, said his small group of volunteers has no plans to try and get Georgia on the ballot for the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.
“When I joined [No Labels], the whole thing was ‘let’s get both parties to work together.’ I wouldn’t think our group would want to support anything like that,” said DiNapoli, who launched the Atlanta-based chapter in 2019.
Instead, No Labels Georgia is focusing on Gold Dome politics. They are currently trying to help build a bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus in the Georgia General Assembly similar to the one in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The congressional caucus of 50 or so centrist Republicans and Democrats formed in 2017 as an outgrowth of conversations with No Labels. That group has been credited with helping to pass President Joe Biden’s signature $1 trillion infrastructure bill last year, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act, which allocated $52 billion in tax credits to U.S. semiconductor manufacturers.
“Ted Cruz and Senator Warnock came together on the infrastructure bill, so if they can work together–really, anyone can,” said DiNapoli, who believes that Georgia Republicans and Democrats can find common ground on health care, education, the opioid crisis, and transportation.
Thus far, DiNapoli says he’s spoken with several Georgia legislators, including Republican state senators Larry Walker, Jason Anavitarte, Kasey Carpenter, and Matthew Gambill, along with Democratic senators Sonya Halpern and Shea Roberts about a state Problem Solvers Caucus. He says that no one has formally signed on, but the conversations are encouraging so far. Gambill and Anavitarte did not respond to requests for comment.
Halpern says she’s had a couple of one-off conversations with colleagues about it, but that’s as far as it’s gotten. “I have only halfway teased that we need to create something like that here,” Halpern told Atlanta Civic Circle.
“I’m relatively new to [the statehouse], but one of the things I do talk about and believe in is working together to get things done. My philosophy of working under the Gold Dome is: I talk to everyone and listen. I want to get things done. It can’t happen if I’m part of a toxic environment.
That means working across the aisle to advance legislation to improve the lives of Georgians,” said Halpern, who was elected to Atlanta’s District 39 in 2020.
But that doesn’t mean Halpern is open to becoming an independent or joining a No Labels third party. “Absolutely not. I’m a Democrat, and I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Halpern. “There’s enough people here who believe in common sense and pragmatic approaches. I think people just want us to get things done.”
Will a No Labels candidate run against Biden and Trump?
It’s possible that the national No Labels outfit will attempt to get on the ballot in Georgia before the 2024 presidential election—whether it’s through Georgia’s current chapter or not.
“We have reached out to the [national No Labels group] to let them know what we’re doing, but we don’t really get a lot of support from them,” said DiNapoli.
The national No Labels group is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare group, which is not required to disclose its donors. It reported raising $11.3 million in revenue in 2021. Under the tax code, social welfare groups are allowed to do political lobbying and endorse candidates that agree with their positions, but their primary purpose can’t be to support a particular candidate or party, which is what a PAC does.
No Labels has registered a federal super-PAC for independent political activity and this year it’s been approved as a registered political party in Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon. That’s sparked a lawsuit from the Arizona Democratic Party to try and kick No Labels off the Arizona ballot.
The organization, which was started in 2010 by Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson, denies that they are in the process of building a centrist third party. Instead, No Labels has said it aims to raise roughly $70 million (donations which have not been publicly disclosed) to gather enough signatures to qualify for the presidential ballot in 2024 as an “insurance project” for Republicans and Democrats who believe the chosen candidates are too extreme.
They say it’s “too early to know” whether a Biden-Trump rematch would lead the group to nominate a “unity ticket.”
“The centerpiece of our effort is a nationwide ballot access effort, which will enable the nomination of an independent Unity presidential ticket if that’s what the American people want,” reads an FAQ section of No Labels’ website. “We want to strengthen the two-party system, and we believe laying the groundwork for an independent Unity presidential ticket in 2024 is the best way to do it.”
In Arizona, there are also rumors that No Labels could offer Democrat-turned-independent U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema a new platform.
The buzz around a so-called “Unity” third-party candidate has raised plenty of alarms recently. A recent New York Magazine column called No Labels’ efforts a “political doomsday device” that could help reelect Donald Trump, and a Washington Post headline described it as “dangerous.”
Jeffrey Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University, doubts the success of a No Labels candidate.
“The most direct reason is that the Democratic and the Republican Party are so entrenched in American politics, on a number of different levels—that they just have a deadlock on the pollsters, the political talent, the people who want to run for office,” said Lazarus. “In American politics, you can’t win unless you get the most votes. And so until you can convince voters that you can get the most votes, they don’t have a reason to support you. It’s one of these sort of self fulfilling prophecies.”
For his part, DiNapoli doesn’t know much about No Label’s push to get on state ballots for the 2024 presidential race. He says he follows sports more than politics and describes his No Labels chapter as “a ragtag group” of about 60 people, some of whom attend semi-regular Zoom meetings.
“Someone on a national No Labels call said that the far-right and far-left have passion and the middle-of-the-road people have a life,” said DiNapoli. “That makes sense to me. And that’s part of the reason it’s hard to get moderates to really volunteer and dedicate time to an organization like this.”