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No Labels, Big Plans
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No Labels, Big Plans

Plus: Meet George Santos’ first primary challenger.

Voting booths stand ready for use in a U.S. election. (Photo from Getty Images.)

Happy Monday! Three cheers for Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s ancient vacuum cleaner Beth, which seems to have made it through another holiday weekend. 

Up to Speed

  • President Joe Biden said Monday that, while he has not yet firmed up plans for an official campaign launch, he intends to run for reelection next year.
  • First-term Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is reportedly laying the groundwork for a reelection bid in 2024, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sinema changed her party affiliation from Democratic to independent earlier this year and has not formally announced whether she will seek another term.
  • Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania announced Monday morning that he will run for re-election in 2024. 
  • Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, 77, underwent surgery Sunday after a Saturday fall at a victory celebration for the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team in Hartford left him with a fractured leg. Blumenthal said Sunday that the surgery was  “completely successful” and that he plans to be in the U.S. Capitol next week when the Senate returns from recess.
  • House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul said during an interview from Taipei last week that if China invades Taiwan, congressional authorization of U.S. troops to defend the island is a distinct possibility. “If communist China invaded Taiwan, it would certainly be on the table and something that would be discussed by Congress and with the American people,” McCaul told Fox News.
  • Two federal judges from Texas and Washington issued two conflicting rulings on Friday regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, an abortion pill that has been available to women for more than two decades. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ordered a hold on federal approval of the drug; shortly thereafter, U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice essentially forbade the government from revoking its approval. The Biden administration appealed Kacsmaryk’s decision Friday evening; the competing rulings suggest the case is likely bound for the Supreme Court.
  • The Department of Education introduced a long-anticipated draft rule on Thursday that would prohibit blanket bans on transgender athletes in K-12 and college-level sports teams under Title IX, but would allow individual schools to draft sex-related criteria that limits transgender students from participating in sports for the purpose of preventing sports-related injuries and ensuring fair competition. 

No Labels, Big Plans

As Donald Trump widens the gap in early GOP primary polling over his top potential challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2020 rematch between the former commander in chief and President Joe Biden is looking more likely. But one outside group is laying the groundwork to offer Americans an alternative.

The nonpartisan organization No Labels is in the process of securing ballot lines for a potential independent presidential ticket in every state that allows for them—37 or 38, by the group’s count. It has already succeeded in four: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon. It’s a significant effort, with $70 million behind it.   

The plan is already kicking up resistance. Last month, Arizona Democrats sued Secretary of State Adrian Fontes to block the Democrat from adding No Labels to the ballot, accusing the group of “not following the rules for political party recognition, while attempting to be placed on the ballot along actual, functioning political parties who do.”

No Labels argues the suit is a naked attempt to shield Biden from competition in a key swing state he won by just 10,457 votes in 2020. “It’s a baseless lawsuit that has nothing to do with protecting democracy and everything with the party protecting its turf,” spokeswoman Maryanne Martini told The Dispatch. “We are confident that the court will uphold the secretary of state’s decision.” The Arizona Democratic Party did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s true that No Labels is not trying to build a whole new party. No Labels is not opening party offices, recruiting volunteers to man phone banks and knock doors, or investing in a data-analytics program. And the group has ruled out reserving ballot lines or fielding candidates for down ballot offices, including for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the former Democrat who is running for reelection in Arizona in 2024 as an independent. The group is focused strictly on the presidency and could field a Democrat or Republican, a current or former elected official, a politician or political outsider, as its standard bearer.

In a conversation with The Dispatch, No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy contrasted their efforts with those of the Forward Party, the new centrist party affiliated with former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. “They’re trying to start a new party from the ground up. They’re going to directly challenge Democrats and Republicans up and down the ticket,” Clancy said. “We don’t intend to do that. … We aren’t trying to blow up the two-party system. But we are trying to make it work.”

No Labels has not yet decided whether to field a presidential ticket next year. The group resists this framing, but its 2024 plans appear contingent on who the Democrats and Republicans nominate. In the meantime, No Labels is building a confidential list of potential candidates that it views as politically pragmatic and positioned to win over voters left and right who are dissatisfied with the possibility of a 2020 Trump/Biden do-over—a prospect internal No Labels polling shows many find unappealing.

“We are going to start vetting candidates confidentially, and we have teams, including legal teams to do due diligence,” Clancy said. “We’re doing some background research just for now and for the foreseeable future. At the, call it summer-fall, we will start to do some confidential outreach to people we would like to consider for this.” People expected to make this list include Democrats, Republicans, elected officials and those who have never run for office.

Regardless of how the No Labels plan unfolds, the group has scheduled a convention for mid-April of 2024 in a hotel ballroom in Dallas. Why there? Its data shows no scenario where an alternative presidential candidate bests the Democratic and Republican nominees that does not involve winning Texas’ mammoth haul of 40 Electoral College votes.

George Santos Gets a Primary Challenger 

NEW YORK—Last week, Kellen Curry became the first Republican to officially challenge scandal-embroiled Rep. George Santos of New York’s 3rd District in 2024. It marks the beginning of what will be one of the most closely watched GOP primaries in the country this cycle. 

Curry—an Afghanistan veteran and former JPMorgan vice president—says he is running in 2024 to “restore honesty and integrity” to New York’s 3rd District, which Biden carried in 2020. The seat, which covers parts of Long Island and Queens, is one of Democrats’ top targets this cycle.

Curry’s 2024 bid comes months after the New York Times uncovered that the first-term congressman had told a jaw-dropping series of lies about his background while on the campaign trail. Whole chunks of his personal history seemed made up out of whole cloth. He lied about his college degree and Wall Street résumé. He lied about his mother being inside the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks. He falsely claimed to be Jewish. The list goes on.

“You see somebody like George Santos and you just think to yourself, we deserve better, we should have better, and so that’s really why I’m running,” Curry said in a Saturday interview in Forest Hills, New York, a residential neighborhood in central Queens.

Curry said that “there’s probably a little blame to go around” regarding Santos’ background: “Even the Democrats probably didn’t do enough scrutiny there.” But he praised New York Republicans for distancing themselves from Santos and said he’s optimistic that local officials will do their due diligence this cycle. The Nassau County GOP, which helps Republicans campaign in the district, has also cut ties with Santos.

“From what I understand, they are revamping their vetting process this time around,” Curry said.

Santos has put GOP leaders in a bind. Urging him to resign ahead of 2024 would trigger a special election, potentially jeopardizing House Republicans’ five-seat majority and entire legislative agenda. For now, McCarthy—who relied on Santos’ yes vote during his 15-ballot fight for the speaker’s gavel in January—has said he is waiting for the House Ethics Committee’s investigation to play out and that he will leave it up to voters whether Santos is worthy of reelection. 

Curry, an Oklahoma native, has some work to do before he can win a primary even against Santos, whose vulnerable New York Republican colleagues are eager for someone to replace him—especially during a presidential year. Santos filed paperwork in March to run again in 2024, though he hasn’t formally declared whether he will follow through with a reelection bid.

For now, Curry says he’s in grassroots fundraising and campaign mode. “I never thought I’d be in New York running for Congress coming from Oklahoma, so I can’t say it was always in the cards,” Curry said. “I think it’s important to give the electorate at least an alternative currently to what we have. And so that’s what we’re doing.”

Eyes on the Trail

  • Empire State Dems want a new congressional map: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James filed an amicus brief on Friday urging the redrawing of the state’s 2022 congressional map that is currently slated to stay in effect until 2030. An independent special master redrew last year’s map after a state judge threw out the Democrat-led state legislature’s initial draft map for being overly partisan. That special master’s map forced several New York House Democrats into member-on-member primaries ahead of the November midterms, when Empire State Republicans flipped four House seats in an otherwise lackluster midterm cycle for the House GOP. 
  • House GOP dysfunction over debt limit: This early in the 2024 cycle, House Democrat-aligned groups are hitting vulnerable House Republicans on the campaign trail over the debt ceiling standoff. Tensions between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Budget Chairman Jodey Arrington over how to negotiate with Democrats aren’t helping those optics. “Mr. McCarthy has told colleagues he has no confidence in Mr. Arrington, the man responsible for delivering a budget framework laying out the spending cuts that Republicans have said they will demand in exchange for any move to increase the debt limit,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Swan and Annie Karni report. “Aside from the perceived disloyalty, Mr. McCarthy regards Mr. Arrington, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, as incompetent, according to more than half a dozen people familiar with his thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. The tension has burst into public view, contributing to confusion and mixed messages from Republican leaders about what their plan is and when they might be ready to share it.”

Notable and Quotable

“I think ultimately the savvy Democratic strategists know [the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office probe] is going to help Trump, and they want him to be the nominee because he is the weakest of the Republican candidates, the most likely to lose again to Biden.”

—Former Trump administration Attorney General Bill Barr on April 9, 2023

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.