Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is keeping his Democratic colleagues guessing about whether he will run for another Senate term or challenge President Biden as a third-party candidate, which Democrats fear would tip the 2024 presidential race to Donald Trump or another Republican and create a tougher road to keeping their Senate majority.  

He stirred new speculation Monday by speaking at a town hall event in New Hampshire sponsored by No Labels, a centrist group that plans to raise $70 million to field a third-party “unity ticket” in next year’s presidential election. 

Manchin argued Monday that the parties have “receded” to the “extreme” edges of the political spectrum. 

“We’re here to make sure that the American people have an option, and the option is can you move the political parties off their respective sides —they’ve gone too far right and too far left,” he said.  

But when asked about his presidential ambitions, he said that’s “putting the cart ahead of the horse.” 

“I’m not here running for president,” he said of his appearance in the presidential battleground state. “I’m here trying basically to save the nation. I’m concerned more now than I’ve ever been concerned in my lifetime. I have three children and 10 grandchildren.” 

He was invited to speak at the event to mark the release of No Labels’s “Common Sense” policy booklet.  

The newly unveiled centrist platform seeks to bridge the divide between the parties on a range of issues, such as immigration, gun violence and abortion rights.   

Manchin on Monday called for policymakers to seek common ground in the spirit of the platform. He endorsed a cap on federal spending but fended off questions about requiring fossil fuel companies to pay for the cleanup of carbon pollution or placing a tax on carbon emissions. 

Manchin’s continued refusal to rule out a third-party presidential bid is stirring alarm among Democrats, who warn it will hurt Biden’s chances of winning a second term.  

Asked Monday if he considered himself an independent or a Democrat, Manchin declared: “I’m the most independent Democrat” you’ve ever seen.  

Democratic strategists are urging Manchin, who is 75, to run for a fourth Senate term, warning he has no realistic path to winning the presidency.  

“I do not think that Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden one-on-one. He needs help, and a third-party candidate, particularly one from the center, would give him the help that he needs,” said Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at Third Way and a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Ultimately, I don’t think Joe Manchin is going to run for president because he has absolutely zero chance of winning one Electoral College vote, let alone 270, and I say that as a fan of Joe Manchin.”  

Manchin says he will decide his political future at the end of the year or early in 2024.  

He raised $1.3 million in the second fundraising quarter, giving him $10.7 million in the bank — a fundraising haul Democratic strategists say is more in line for a Senate campaign than a presidential campaign.  

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, by comparison, announced he raised $6.1 million in the second quarter.  

Democratic strategists say flirting with an independent presidential bid is good for Manchin’s brand in West Virginia, a state Trump carried with 68 percent of the vote in 2016 and 69 percent in 2020.  

But they predict at the end of the day, Manchin won’t want to swing the 2024 race to Trump.  

“Sen. Manchin likes to keep people guessing. He will likely take every platform afforded to him to advance his political belief and agenda, but that being said, he’s a lifelong Democrat, and I find it hard to believe that he would do anything to jeopardize President Biden’s chances of winning reelection,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist and former Senate leadership aide. 

“His narrative from the beginning has been that he’s a different kind of Democrat, that he’s a middle-of-the-road Democrat,” he said. “This is an opportunity to further embrace that narrative by appearing at a No Labels event.”  

Manchin on Monday said he was saddened by many Americans’ lack of faith in the political system and widespread belief among Trump supporters that the 2020 election was stolen.  

“It is so sad to be in a situation to live in a great country such as this where people are led astray through either social media [or] in so many different ways they’re receiving their information,” he said, adding it’s troubling when a candidate “believes the only fair election is the one they win,” alluding to Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud. 

Manchin faces a tough battle if he decides to run for reelection after an East Carolina University Center for Survey Research poll published in May showed him trailing West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) by 22 points — 54 percent to 32 percent — in a hypothetical matchup. 

Democratic strategists and nonpartisan political experts warn Manchin would have no shot at winning the presidency given the unlikelihood of any third-party candidate winning a majority in a battleground state.  

They argue the nation’s largest states, such as California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas, which have the most Electoral College votes, tilt decidedly toward either the Democratic or Republican parties. 

And they point out the $70 million No Labels plans to raise to get its candidate on the ballot in all 50 states is only a small fraction of the amount a third-party challenger would need to raise to defeat Biden or the Republican nominee. Biden and the Democratic National Committee, for example, announced raising $72 billion in the second quarter of this year.  

Former Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said “many Democrats expect Sen. Manchin to run for reelection to save that [Senate] seat.” 

“The most important thing to understand about third parties is they don’t win, and the only thing they wound up doing is tipping the balance, in this case, to Donald Trump,” he said.  

Downey also questioned the sources of No Labels funding to get a third-party line on the ballot in all 50 states.  

“First of all, we don’t know where the money is coming from,” he said. “The $70 million that No Labels is touting has all been dark money.” 

Downey, who was in New Hampshire for the Manchin event, is working with former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) to oppose the No Labels third-party presidential push. 

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), one of the co-chairmen of No Labels, argued at Monday’s event that polls show voters across the ideological spectrum are unenthusiastic about a Biden-Trump rematch. 

Manchin’s relationship with Biden has been on a roller coaster over the past 2 1/2 years.  

He regularly expressed admiration for Biden during the early months of his administration and cast a key vote for Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which passed the evenly divided Senate on a party-line vote. 

But talks between Manchin and the White House over Biden’s ambitious $3.5 trillion Build Back Better agenda broke down in December 2021, and Manchin delivered a blow to fellow Democrats by announcing on Fox News he couldn’t support the White House framework.  

Biden’s climate and tax agenda appeared dead in the water until Manchin suddenly resurrected it by announcing a deal he negotiated in secret with Schumer to establish a 15 percent corporate minimum tax, empower Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, invest $369 billion in programs to promote domestic energy production and fight climate change. 

That deal, however, appeared to hurt Manchin’s approval ratings in West Virginia.  

A Morning Consult poll published in October showed his approval rating in his home state dropped by double digits, from 60 percent among registered voters in early 2022 to 42 percent six months later.   

This year, the West Virginia senator sharply criticized Biden’s leadership because of how his administration implemented the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which Manchin coauthored, and threatens to become a political liability for the West Virginia centrist.  

He has already helped derail several high-profile Biden nominees — such as Neera Tanden, the president’s pick to head the White House budget office, and Gigi Sohn, Biden’s choice to serve on the Federal Communications Commission. 

Manchin slammed the president this spring for not showing enough leadership in curbing the growth of the federal debt and for his initial refusal to negotiate with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on raising the debt limit.    

But he has won some important victories recently.  

The debt limit deal negotiated in May by Biden and McCarthy included expedited approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a top Manchin priority that is estimated to create 2,000 jobs in West Virginia.  

The groundwork for including language to fast-track the pipeline was laid down during Manchin’s negotiations with Schumer in 2022 on the Inflation Reduction Act.  

In more good news for Manchin, who has made inflation and the federal deficit a top issue, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that annual inflation dropped to 3 percent in June — well below its recent high of 9.1 percent in June of 2022.