PHOENIX — The 2024 presidential election is drawing an unusually robust field of independent, third party and long shot candidates hoping to capitalize on Americans’ ambivalence and frustration over a likely rematch between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump.
Those looking to blaze a new path to the White House range from members of Congress to a prominent academic and a scion of one of the county’s most prominent political families.
Their odds are exceedingly long.
George Washington was the only person to win the presidency without a party affiliation. An incumbent hasn’t lost his party’s presidential nomination since Democrats passed over Franklin Pierce in 1856. Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 marked the last time someone from a new party — in his case, the Republican Party — won the White House.
But with the United States deeply divided and somewhat anxious about the prospect of another Biden-Trump campaign, third party candidates insist voters are restless enough to defy history.
“This is really fertile ground now for independent politics,” Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee in 2012 and 2016, said in an interview. “There’s so much hunger for a principled politics, a politics of integrity, and for options outside of the two zombie candidates that are being forced down our throats, and the two zombie political parties.”
Little-known candidates with no chance of victory run every year and sometimes piece together enough votes to make a difference in close races, even if they don’t win. But the activity this fall has been notable.
Stein, a physician and environmental activist, announced this month that she will make her third bid for the presidency in 2024, reversing course from her earlier decision to remain on the sidelines next year and support Cornel West, a scholar and progressive activist with a loyal following on the left. West announced last month that he no longer was running under the Green Party banner, but as an independent.
Seventy-five percent of Americans think Biden should not run for president again, and 69% think Trump should not, according to an August poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Both men are underwater with their approval ratings, meaning more Americans view them unfavorably than favorably.
Americans think Biden, 81, is too old and they are divided about criminal charges against Trump, 77, who has been indicted four times and is facing trial next year.
Nearly 80% said Biden is too old to be effective for four more years. About half of Americans approved of the Justice Department indicting Trump over his efforts to remain in office after losing the 2020 election to Biden.
Conscious of their candidates’ middling approval ratings, Democrats and Republicans are watching the third-party campaigns with wariness.
Many Democrats blame Stein for Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Stein won 1.5 million votes as Trump defeated Clinton by the slimmest of margins in a few swing states. Democrats assume that many of voters supporting a progressive environmental activist would likely have chosen Clinton if forced to choose between the major parties.
Meanwhile, a little-known Minnesota congressman is challenging Biden in the Democratic primary. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota says Democrats are sleepwalking into disaster with their march toward renominating an unpopular president who is the oldest person to hold the office.
“I’m just saying the quiet part out loud,” Phillips said in an interview in South Carolina.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., last month ended his Democratic primary challenge to Biden and is running instead as an independent. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist, has higher approval ratings among Republicans than Democrats despite his deep familial ties to the Democratic Party. Kennedy’s uncle was the President John F. Kennedy and his father was Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
No Labels, a well-funded group that is laying the groundwork for a possible bipartisan ticket, is working toward ballot access in all 50 states, with more than a dozen already approved. The plan has caused increasing anxiety among Democrats who its support will come primarily from would-be Biden voters, easing Trump’s path back to the White House.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced this month he will not run for reelection next year but will travel the country to consider an independent presidential campaign.
Manchin said he will seek to invigorate centrists who feel left out of the political system and he will consider running if no one emerges to represent their interests in the presidential campaign. He insists he’s “not going to be anybody’s spoiler.”