15,000 Voters in Arizona Support ‘No Labels’; Democrats Worry About a Biden Spoiler

People with the group No Labels hold signs during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — More than 15,000 people in Arizona have registered to join a new political party floating a possible bipartisan “unity ticket” against Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

While that’s less than the population of each of the state’s 40 largest cities, it’s still a number big enough to tip the presidential election in a critical swing state. And that is alarming people trying to stop Trump from winning the White House again.

The very existence of the No Labels group is fanning Democratic anxiety about Trump’s chances against an incumbent president facing questions about his age and record. While it hasn’t committed to running candidates for president and vice president, No Labels has already secured ballot access in Arizona and 10 other states. Its organizers say they are on track to reach 20 states by the end of this year and all 50 states by Election Day.

“If they have someone on the ballot who is designed to bring the country together, that clearly draws votes away from Joe Biden and does not draw votes away from Donald Trump,” said Rodd McLeod, a Democratic strategist in Arizona.

That’s raising the stakes for Biden allies who are mounting a furious pressure campaign against No Labels and politicians taking meetings with the group.

In Arizona, which Biden won by about 10,000 votes, the state Democratic Party sued Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, also a Democrat, to try to prevent No Labels from being on the ballot. The party lost in court and then dropped its lawsuit. Now Democrats are pushing Fontes to force No Labels to disclose its donors, having insinuated that the group is being supported by conservatives attempting to thwart Biden. No Labels has so far refused to name how it is funding its work, saying it follows federal law and wants to protect the privacy of its donors.

Fontes has not commented publicly but is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks after telling No Labels he may take action against the group for failing to register under the state’s campaign finance law. His decision is likely to be challenged in court.

Some of the anti-No Labels efforts are quixotic. A perennial candidate from outside Phoenix signed up as a No Labels candidate and declared himself chairman of No Labels’ Pinal County chapter, in part so he could run for state office and try to force the party to follow the state’s campaign finance reporting laws.

“It’s kind of like a performance art piece,” said Richard Grayson, who promptly after switching to No Labels endorsed Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Biden’s narrow 2020 victory came with the help of anti-Trump Republicans, right-leaning independents and voters who disliked both candidates but saw Biden as a better option than Trump. He’ll need their support to win a rematch.

In Arizona, Biden was endorsed by former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain — a lifelong Republican who publicly clashed with Trump.

If even a small number of those voters were to back a No Labels candidate next year, Biden could fall short.

No third-party candidate has ever won the presidency or even come close. In the modern era, the strongest performer was Ross Perot in 1992, but he didn’t earn a single electoral vote. He did, however, earn a reputation as a spoiler to then-President George H.W. Bush.

Democrats blame Green Party nominee Jill Stein for spoiling Hillary Clinton ‘s would-be victory in 2016, when Stein got more votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin than Trump’s margin of victory. In 2020, a shift of just 45,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin would have been enough to tilt the election from Biden to Trump.

“We need to convince the political world that being involved with this is a bad idea,” said Matt Bennett, executive vice president of the center-left group Third Way. “If you’re a potential candidate of theirs, you’re going to be Jill Stein 2.0.”

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