Biden challengers, third-party bids fuel internal party fears about spoiler loss

"I have advised him against it. I think it would be a terrible idea. It would help Donald Trump," Hickenlooper said of Manchin.

Published: July 20, 2023 11:12pm

A host of challenges from within and outside the Democratic Party are stoking fears among party insiders about spoilers to President Joe Biden's reelection bid. 

Beyond his low polling numbers and age, the 80-year-old Biden's biggest inside challenge appears to be primary rival Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist and Kennedy family scion.

An average of polls show Biden leading Kennedy by roughly 50 points. But Kennedy has clearly attracted the attention of the political press, particularly conservative-leaning outlets that have pumped up the potential for a close primary race. 

House Democrats appeared Thursday to close ranks around Biden by attempting to deny Kennedy the opportunity to testify publicly at a hearing, over his recent comments about reports that COVID-19 was "ethnically targeted" at whites and blacks and is less dangerous to "Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese."

However, party insiders several days earlier reportedly expressed concern about the Biden campaign.

“If Trump wins next November and everyone says, ‘How did that happen,’ one of the questions will be: what was the Biden campaign doing in the summer of 2023?” a person who worked in a senior role on Biden’s 2020 campaign told CNN, referring to front running GOP presidential candidate former President Trump. 

And a longtime Democratic fundraiser told the news outlet: “I’m not sure which is harder: Getting people to focus on the campaign, or getting people excited about it." 

Biden's job approval rating is now at 41.9%, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, with 53.5% of respondents disapproving of his efforts as president.

And a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows nearly half of Democrats – 48% – said Biden was too old for another term.

Beyond Biden's own challenges and his primary rivals, so-called third party challenges also threaten to deny his a second term.

The biggest challenges right now appear to be from intellectual and left-wing activist Cornel West and the No Labels initiative – with third-party bids historically taking the most votes in the general election from the Democrat nominee. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy is running in the Democratic primary, meaning his campaign would presumably end should he fail to unseat Biden as the party nominee. He has, however, cast doubt on whether he'll support a Democratic nominee should he fail to win the nomination. 

There's also chatter he could be Trump's running mate. 

Trump, in late June, offered encouragement to Kennedy in his campaign, saying, "He’s been very nice to me, I’ve actually had a very nice relationship with him over the years. He’s a very smart guy, and a good guy.

"He’s a common sense guy and so am I. So, whether you’re conservative or liberal, common sense is common sense."

Kennedy, likewise, recently praised Trump as "probably the most successful debater in this country" since Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated in the 1858 Illinois Senate race.

However, Kennedy has explicitly rejected the prospect of joining Trump on a united ticket.

Republicans' enthusiasm for Kennedy's presidential bid has also raised suspicion the GOP is boosting his spoiler potential.

Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh told The Hill that Kennedy's candidacy "is being propped up by a bunch of right-wing types who seem to use Kennedy as a vehicle to undermine Biden."

Kennedy says his campaign is a response to Biden's shortcomings as a candidate.

Cornel West

West announced his campaign as a 2024 presidential candidate for the People's Party in early June. He has since announced his intent to seek the Green Party nomination.

He is also a prominent critic of the Biden administration's domestic and foreign policies.

In early July, he opposed the administration's decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine, calling their use a crime against humanity.

"Shame on President Biden for such revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy!" he said

In an appearance on CNN last week, West dismissed concerns that he could flip the election for Donald Trump, saying "that's just not true."

Host Kaitlan Collins had pointed to the candidacy of 2016 Green Party nominee Jill Stein, whom she said played a role in handing the election to Trump.

West rejected the notion that Stein's candidacy served as a spoiler for the Clinton campaign, but rather that the Democratic Party failed to address the concerns of voters.

"Examine why it is you did not speak to the issues of poor and working people and therefore you lost," he said. "If you'd rather lose than really change and examine yourself, then you're gonna have third parties popping up all over the place because people are suffering out here."

No Labels

No Labels has yet to pick or back a candidate, but the initiative seeking to give voters a alternative choice between the Republican and Democratic nominees has amassed a war chest to elevate an alternative candidate.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, in particular, has attracted attention as a potential choice.

The moderate Democrat is up for reelection in 2024 and is likely to face a difficult challenge in the heavily Republican state, though he has yet to officially announce his plans.

Fueling the speculation of a third-party run, however, is his participation in a No Labels event in the key state of New Hampshire this month, in which he joined prominent ex-politicians such as former Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, former Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton, and former South Carolina Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham.

Polling data has suggested that a Manchin campaign would adversely impact a Biden reelection effort more so than a Republican campaign, leading many party leaders nervous about the prospect.

Colorado Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper told Politico in June that he and Manchin had explicitly discussed the idea and that he had urged the West Virginia lawmaker against that course of action.

"I have advised him against it. I think it would be a terrible idea. It would help Donald Trump," he said.

No Labels insists it will not run a candidate in 2024 should they believe that campaign would merely prove a spoiler for one major party or the other.

"We’re in this to give the majority of the American people who feel that the major two parties are failing them a third choice, both in policies, such as we're going to release in New Hampshire tomorrow, but also possibly in a third candidate," co-chairman Lieberman said this week. "We've made very clear that we’re not in this to be spoilers."

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.

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