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    No Labels national director says he will vote for Joe Biden

    By Martin Pengelly in Washington,

    Joe Biden will not now face the prospect of a fight for centrist votes with No Labels, although the vaccine sceptic Robert F Kennedy Jr remains in the race. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

    The national director of No Labels, the third-party group which on Thursday said it would not run a candidate in the US presidential election, will now vote for Joe Biden, not Donald Trump.

    Related: Robert F Kennedy campaign calls January 6 rioters ‘activists’ in email

    “Me, as a person?” Joe Cunningham told Fox News . “I would vote for Biden over Trump.”

    Cunningham did not elaborate. He was also offered the chance to choose Robert F Kennedy Jr, the vaccine sceptic and conspiracy theorist running as an independent .

    Asked why No Labels gave up on its quest, for which it said it raised $60m and secured ballot access in key states, Cunningham said: “No Labels was looking for a hero and a hero never emerged.

    “We’ve been very straightforward and upfront and honest with the American public that we were gonna field this ticket if two conditions were met. Number one, if Americans wanted another option, which is definitely, box is checked.”

    Biden and Trump are indeed historically unpopular . Kennedy has polled in double figures. But amid a barrage of warnings that a No Labels candidate stood to damage Biden most, amid warnings of Trump’s threat to US democracy, the group ultimately gave up on its search.

    “Number two,” Cunningham said, “if we’re able to find candidates that we believe have a pathway to victory. And that’s where we ran into the trouble. At the end of the day, we weren’t able to find candidates we felt had a straightforward path of victory.”

    Candidates courted reportedly included Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who opposed Trump longest in the Republican primary; Larry Hogan, the former Maryland governor now running for US Senate; Chris Christie , the former New Jersey governor who ran an explicitly anti-Trump Republican primary campaign; and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a former wrestler and Hollywood action star.

    No Labels also suffered a major blow last week with the death at 82 of its founding chair, Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic and independent senator and vice-presidential nominee.

    “The establishment does not reward dissent,” Cunningham said . “So we found it difficult to find the leaders to step up with the courage to be able to say, ‘OK, we are putting our country first, and, you know, damn the consequences within our respective parties.’”

    Groups opposed to the No Labels’ third-party effort celebrated its climbdown.

    Matt Bennett, of the centre-left group Third Way , said: “A year and a half ago, we were the first to warn that No Labels’ presidential bid was doomed, dangerous, and would divide the anti-Trump coalition. Joined by a wide array of allies, we waged a campaign to dissuade any serious candidate from joining their ticket.

    “We are deeply relieved that everyone rejected their offer, forcing them to stand down. While the threat of third-party spoilers remains, this uniquely damaging attack on President Biden and Democrats from the centre has at last ended.”

    On Friday, in a call with reporters and supporters, No Labels leaders said the group would stay engaged in election-year politics.

    Jay Nixon, a Democratic governor of Missouri turned director of No Labels ballot access efforts, said: “Twenty-one states, successful in any litigation we had, were were on a path to get that completed.”

    He also said: “This year we will pursue two goals at once. We will do all in our power … in the next seven months to ensure that the major [presidential] candidates compete for commonsense voters rather than speaking solely to their respective party bases. I think that is a significant responsibility.

    Related: Should Biden be worried about losing Black voters to Trump? – podcast

    “This means defining the issues in this moment. [It] stands for border security, spending, the cost of living, supporting our allies abroad, all of that commonsense agenda …

    “That means also supporting commonsense congressional candidates that can serve as a check on the executive branch. On that front [we have a] very significant standard bearer in former [Maryland] governor Larry Hogan [who is] running for the Senate [as a Republican]. There are folks like that. He is not alone.”

    Nixon and other leaders who spoke on Friday did not say another presidential effort was on the horizon in 2028.

    But another senior No Labels official, Andy Bursky, told the Wall Street Journal : “I wouldn’t rule anything out. The organisation has not been beaten by this effort, it has been strengthened by this effort.”

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