MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Joe Lieberman and Jon Huntsman once again are pinning their hopes on New Hampshire. But this time, they’re managing a campaign without a candidate.
The two former presidential hopefuls are co-chairmen of No Labels, a bipartisan group created after the 2010 midterm elections with the ambitious goal of bridging the divide between Republicans and Democrats. While the group also has staff in Iowa, which hosts the first presidential caucuses, it is now focused on New Hampshire, home to the earliest presidential primaries.
Both said New Hampshire was the natural choice because voters take their roles seriously and aren’t shy about holding candidates accountable.
“It could easily be infused into the bloodstream of politics here,” said Huntsman. “You can’t do that anywhere else.”
Undeclared voters, who outnumber either Republicans or Democrats and can vote in either primary, are another key advantage, Lieberman said.
“We’re trying to counteract the natural political forces of primaries, which pull candidates in both parties back to the base of the party, and into attacking the other party, which often leaves them not much room to think about how they’re going to govern with the other party,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut, and Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, were in New Hampshire Thursday to meet volunteers and promote the “Problem-Solver Convention” they’ll host in Manchester on Oct. 12. They expect about 1,000 undeclared voters to attend, along with a yet-to-be-revealed list of presidential candidates.
No Labels is asking candidates to embrace four broad goals in the areas of job creation, a balanced federal budget, securing Medicare and Social Security and energy independence. In the weeks following the convention, candidates who embrace those goals and commit to working with a bipartisan group in Congress on at least one of them within 30 days of taking office will be awarded the No Labels “Problem Solvers Seal of Approval.”
Although No Labels leaders said last year they planned to unveil a detailed National Strategic Agenda in October 2015, the group has since changed course.
“We’ve done a lot of work to fill in the specific categories that would naturally be associated with each of the big four (goals) … but we think it’s more important to let those four categories float out there, and at the right time, when the next president wants to actually engage and choose one of the four, then we’ll have some ready-made plans that will help,” Huntsman said.
In the meantime, volunteers have been doggedly following the candidates around New Hampshire to promote the group. One volunteer told Lieberman on Thursday that she got a great response from Republican Jeb Bush, while another said he had a tougher time with Democrat Hillary Clinton, who appeared to be in “too much of a hurry.”
“I think New Hampshire is the perfect place for us to give people the opportunity to not just shout out that they’re mad as hell at Washington — as they have a right to be — but to appeal to the candidates to commit themselves to doing something about,” Lieberman said.
New Hampshire is familiar territory for both Lieberman and Huntsman. Both skipped the Iowa caucuses to focus on New Hampshire, where Lieberman finished fifth in the 2004 Democratic primary and Huntsman finished third in the 2012 Republican contest.
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