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No Labels aims to swing at Biden even as its own plan remains unclear

By Edward-Isaac Dovere, CNN

(CNN) — With days to go before its previously announced mid-March deadline of finalizing plans for a third party presidential ticket, No Labels still doesn’t have a candidate or a clear plan — even as it looks to take swings at President Joe Biden that its own officials acknowledge are more potent than accurate.

And major potential recruits are still holding out: a person familiar with the conversations told CNN that No Labels officials have talked with advisers to Chris Christie, but that the former New Jersey governor has declined to meet with them himself.

The group’s officials now say that they have no set date and still deliberately have provided no explanation for how they will make a decision. And several prospective candidates and members who have heard the group’s pitch told CNN they have been left skeptical about the mechanics actually translating to a workable campaign.

No Labels officials – who have repeatedly said they don’t want to become a spoiler that would result in Donald Trump going back to the White House – have urged prospective candidates and others to prioritize accusing Biden of having politically toxic positions he does not actually hold. They are hoping to spread those accusations more widely next week, ahead of Biden’s annual State of the Union to Congress.

In a private presentation the group has circulated among members and prospective candidates are two claims that No Labels officials say would be damaging to Biden, even as they acknowledge the claims aren’t true: that he is for “open borders” and that he is captive to a “far left” that “wants to abandon Israel” and is “sympathetic to Hamas.”

Those claims, alongside accusing Biden of overseeing a ballooning national debt, are the best way to appeal to voters, No Labels suggests in slides from their presentation obtained by CNN.

One official who verified that the slides were accurate — after audibly sighing in frustration as each was described — said these claims were meant as “some themes that Biden should be considering before the State of the Union.”

“These are ideas that I would imagine any No Labels unity ticket would be embracing,” the No Labels official added. “We’re putting that out there.”

Another official agreed that these are exactly the issues a unity ticket should run on, arguing that the cumulative effect of Biden’s policies has been effectively open borders, and that even though Biden is adamant about not abandoning Israel, the voters they have polled believe that a large part of a dominant faction of the Democratic base now does support pulling away from Israel.

The point, the second official explained to CNN, is to capitalize on how they believe voters view Biden and Trump, which is drawn in part on polling No Labels has conducted periodically since last year by presenting these false positions as options.

The plan was for former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a Democrat, to write a more polished version of these arguments in an op-ed to publish before Biden’s speech.

Earlier this week, No Labels announced a $750,000 ad campaign urging Congress to back the bipartisan immigration and border bill. Biden went to the border on Thursday to reiterate his support for the bill — and again called on Trump to join him in backing the legislation, instead of convincing Republicans to scuttle for his own political gain.

A CNN poll in February showed immigration to be a huge political liability for Biden, with just 30% approving of the job he is doing on the issue and 79% – including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans – saying the situation at the border is a crisis. An early January poll from CBS showed that 63% wanted Biden to be tougher at the border.

Biden has also faced protests over his handling of Israel’s war with Hamas. More than 100,000 people voting “uncommitted” in Tuesday’s Michigan primary following an effort by Arab American activists to send a message about seeking a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

That same CNN poll showed Biden with an overall 41% approval rating for his handling of Ukraine, which includes his push for more aid and support, and a 34% approval rating of his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas, which has been centered on steadfast public support of Israel while ratcheting up condemnation of the military action in Gaza, and negotiating toward another pause in fighting in exchange for the release of more Israeli hostages.

Republicans were about twice as likely as Democrats — 40% to 19% — to say that America is doing too little to help Israel, while Democrats were about twice as likely as Republicans — 41% to 21% — to say that America is doing little to help Ukraine.

The national debt has increased during Biden’s presidency, but not at nearly the rate it increased under Trump’s.

The claims in the No Labels presentation about Trump, meanwhile, are largely accurate: one slide says he will be for “militarized mass deportations and detention camps.” Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon said in a Thursday podcast, “Mass deportations are going to start, if you don’t like that, then don’t vote for President Trump.” Others around the former president made similar comments.

The presentation contrasts the positions of the “far left” to those of the “far right,” which it says “wants to abandon Ukraine” and is “sympathetic to Vladimir Putin.” Trump opposes extending aid to Ukraine and has said that he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to European nations that do not spend enough of their budgets on defense.

No Labels argues, “Our divisions at home are strengthening out adversaries like Russia, China and Iran abroad.”

Pushback to No Labels steps up as candidate chase continues

The No Labels effort has had Biden-supporting Democrats on edge since last year, and more of that will break into the open next week ahead of the group’s virtual convention. In details shared first with CNN, MoveOn, in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union and the liberal group Way to Lead, is launching a new website and ad campaign to undercut No Labels, focused in North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin.

With a focus on young voters, the ads, which will appear on streaming services, will start by saying No Labels is helping Trump. Once a ticket is picked, the ads will shift to attacking the candidates directly, with early versions on several of the expected options already prepared.

The effort from the left-leaning groups is unquestionably on turning Democrats against the effort, with the website set to call No Labels “a dark money group with funding from MAGA donors” and that voting for the ticket would be “a trap” to help reelect Trump, according to a preview of the design obtained by CNN.

“Voters deserve to know who is behind their dangerous thought experiment,” said MoveOn Political Action Executive Director Rahna Epting. “MoveOn and our members refuse to stand idly by as No Labels attempts to create chaos and enable a would-be dictator in Donald Trump who threatens our core values.”

With days before decision deadline, No Labels’ process still in the air

Another slide in No Labels’ presentation summarizes the polling the group has conducted itself as giving Trump a very large advantage in a two-way race over Biden, but that the results would be almost evenly split if the No Labels ticket had a Republican as the presidential candidate and a Democrat as the vice presidential candidate. Most public polls show Trump and Biden locked in a close race nationally.

That Republican-Democrat ticket configuration, the second official said, is also being urged on members who are deciding whether to move forward with a campaign.

How No Labels is making that and other decisions about its presidential plans remains deliberately shrouded in mystery. The group is taking a two-step approach: first, 800 delegates will vote in a virtual convention on March 8 whether to go forward with fielding a ticket — or if they opt against that move because they are worried that the ticket won’t work or that it might prove a spoiler that would help Trump win. The second No Labels official said that those 800 delegates were chosen from among active members of the group and others who had been recommended, but declined to explain the criteria used other than to say each person chosen had been through multiple screening conversations with staff.

If those delegates vote to go forward with a campaign, there will be another process to decide who would be on the ticket they will offer their ballot line to.

The No Labels official said that the process of choosing between candidates is still being worked out, as is who will have a say in the process and when exactly the process would conclude. While several board members and senior staff members from No Labels in January told CNN that they were aiming to have a ticket by mid-March, this official now said there was no set date yet.

No Labels officials have continued reaching out and making presentations to several prospective candidates, even as top prospects like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan have distanced themselves from the effort.

Christie, the former New Jersey governor, has suggested he is slightly more open to No Labels than he had been while running for the GOP nomination, and that a Republican as the presidential candidate might hurt rather than boost Trump. Still, he said on CNN, “If anybody is going to pursue that, they’d have to be convinced that there was a path to 270 electoral votes.”

Also getting the pitch: former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, also a Republican.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s last remaining Republican primary challenger, said she will not take No Labels’ calls, but some involved hope that may change if she does not have a more successful Super Tuesday than in her string of losses to Trump so far.

A No Labels official declined comment on specific candidates the group is in touch with.

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