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No Labels Keeps Getting Turned Down. So a Delegate Is Stepping Forward.

“People like me are beginning to say, ‘Somebody has to step up, somebody has to be that candidate.’”

Election 2024 No Labels
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

There’s at least one person already involved with No Labels who is willing to lead its presidential “Unity Ticket” in this year’s election. He’s just very far from the type of high-profile nominee the group has said it wants for the job.

Elbert “Al” Bartell, a former independent Senate and gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, told NOTUS on Thursday that he would accept No Labels’ presidential nomination if offered, saying the group might need to turn to an authentically independent candidate if it hopes to field a ticket in 2024.

Bartell isn’t coming out of nowhere: He is one of No Labels’ 800 delegates charged with approving the group’s presidential and vice presidential nominees. But he said that in light of the series of other candidates turning down the group, he’s willing to step up and fill the void.

“People like me are beginning to say, ‘Somebody has to step up, somebody has to be that candidate,’” Bartell said, adding that he was “volunteering” to become a presidential candidate.

Bartell said he hasn’t spoken directly with No Labels’ leadership about the nomination but added that they were aware of his interest in running for president.

A spokesperson for No Labels did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Bartell’s interest.

The civil rights advocate’s interest in leading the No Labels ticket comes a day after former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie publicly declined to take on the ballot line, saying he didn’t think an independent candidate had a plausible path to victory in a presidential election featuring President Joe Biden and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. Christie, who sought the GOP nomination for president earlier this year, was just the latest high-profile politician to publicly decline to run on the No Labels ballot line, joining former Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

Their decisions have left the group with few obvious options as it continues to try to find a presidential nominee. A source familiar with No Labels’ operation said that for weeks, Christie and former Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan of Georgia had been widely seen as the group’s last hope — and Duncan, like Christie, said last week that he would not be pursuing the nomination.

No Labels officials are now also up against an increasingly tight deadline: Leaders with the group have said they want its nominee to appear on the general election ballot in all 50 states, and the group has worked diligently since last year to obtain that ballot access even before it selects its presidential candidate.

However, some states, including New York, mandate that only named candidates can start collecting voter signatures necessary to appear on the ballot. Candidates who wish to appear on the ballot in New York can start collecting signatures on April 16, less than three weeks away.

No Labels officials said Wednesday that they had gained ballot access for their nominee in 19 states.

In an interview, Bartell said it was his understanding that the No Labels search committee was still interviewing potential nominees, although he declined to share the names of the people being interviewed.

For months, the group’s leadership has said it might not move forward with its presidential ticket if it doesn’t find the right nominee to lead it, one with a record of achievement in major public office and the kind of profile to persuade enough voters to break free from both the Republican and Democratic parties, achieving something arguably not done since Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election under the banner of the then-newly formed Republican Party.

Bartell doesn’t have that kind of profile on paper. Though he ran as an independent candidate for Senate in 2020, he received fewer than 15,000 votes in the November election, less than 1% of the overall vote. Bartell again ran statewide in Georgia two years later, this time for governor, but failed to make the general election ballot.

Bartell said No Labels officials and delegates gathered for a call Thursday morning featuring Manchin and GOP Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a day after the group’s founding co-chairman, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, died. The message, according to Bartell, was a reaffirmation of Lieberman’s abiding belief in the group’s mission to promote bipartisan governance.

“We’re now more committed than ever,” Bartell said.

Alex Roarty is a reporter at NOTUS.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how Bartell performed in the 2020 election. He made the general election ballot but did not advance to a runoff.