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Centrist 'No Labels' group to move ahead with US presidential bid, sources say

The White House is seen at sunset in Washington

By Jarrett Renshaw

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The centrist group No Labels is expected to announce on Friday it will move forward with a presidential bid for November's U.S. election, but will stop short of naming candidates, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Friday marks the beginning of the most critical stretch for the centrist group since it announced its shift from Washington bipartisan cheerleader to a presidential party hoping to seize on America's dissatisfaction with the likely nominees from the nation's two major political parties.

The presidential race narrowed this week, after Republican Nikki Haley and Democrat Dean Phillips ended their respective bids, following nominating contests in 15 states. Democratic President Joe Biden is expected on Thursday during his State of the Union address to sharpen distinctions between himself and his Republican challenger, former President Donald Trump.

No Labels will not name its presidential and vice presidential picks on Friday, when roughly 800 delegates meet virtually in a private meeting. Instead, the group is expected to roll out a formal selection process next week for potential candidates who would be selected in the coming weeks, the sources said.

No Labels did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The group initially planned to hold an in-person convention in March where potential candidates were expected to convince delegates to nominate them to the ticket. But the plan was scrapped after leaders questioned the cost and whether a candidate would want to risk being the subject of public humiliation if defeated, according to multiple interviews with party officials.

In the past months, No Labels staff has been vetting potential delegates to root out any potential saboteurs who support either Biden or Trump and who want to disrupt their efforts. The effort underscores the tightrope the group is trying to walk by hoping to make it a grassroots movement while allowing the leaders to maintain some control.

No Labels officials promised that the group would only move forward if they believed they had a viable path to victory and wouldn't play the role of "spoiler." But Friday's decision will likely do little to stifle criticism - largely from Democrats - that the party has no chance and will only tip the scales toward Trump.

"(No Labels') nomination is a path only to embarrassing defeat that could serve as a spoiler that returns Trump to power," said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a center-left think tank.

The Democratic Party's primary opposition research organization, American Bridge, in January hired prominent election attorney Marc Elias to help thwart these outsider bids, among other things.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Leslie Adler)