Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, political embed Katherine Koretski and senior politics reporter Alex Seitz-Wald, who have immersed themselves in the third-party battle to make a mark on 2024, report on the latest announcement by No Labels and what’s next in that group’s 2024 plans. Plus, Kristen Welker digs into the State of the Union and what’s next for President Joe Biden after the big speech.

The third-party guessing game rolls on

By Katherine Koretski, Alex Seitz-Wald and Scott Bland

No Labels held a virtual 800-person delegate meeting Friday, where the members voted to move forward with the process of forming a presidential ticket to run in the 2024 election.

There’s just one hitch: The group doesn’t have an actual candidate yet — and nothing about Friday made it clear whether it ever will.

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The outside group’s long-running dalliance with the 2024 presidential race illustrates why, even with so much else about the election seemingly set in stone, it’s still hard to say how much the many third-party candidates and groups eyeing this race could actually matter in November.

And it’s not just because third-party candidates often lose support in polls as Election Day draws nearer, though that is a real trend. There are two major logistical hurdles that can make things difficult.

State ballot access: Getting on the ballot as an independent is time-consuming and expensive. It’s why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is leaning on a super PAC to help gather signatures to place him on state ballots, though he faces a campaign finance complaint alleging improper coordination with the super PAC American Values 2024 in those efforts.

No Labels has a well-financed effort to get on the ballot in all 50 states and is currently on 16, including the key swing states of Arizona and Nevada.

Candidate selection: Usually, the third-party candidate comes first and a movement grows around them, to the extent they can build one. No Labels is working things the opposite way, building the ballot-access machinery before finding a candidate. The organization said in a statement Friday that it will be “accelerating” its candidate outreach and announcing a process for how candidates will be selected on March 14.

Without knowing answers to these two big questions — who are the candidates, and where will they be on the ballot? — it’s impossible to say how the third-party vote will affect the 2024 race. And it could be a while before we know final answers on both fronts.

Read more here →

Biden answered key questions with his State of the Union. Here’s what’s next.

Analysis by Kristen Welker

President Joe Biden fired up base Democrats in his State of the Union speech. He worked to address concerns about his age. He made contrast after contrast with former President Donald Trump, referring to “my predecessor” 13 times.

As one Democratic strategist described the speech to me: “The agenda is geared to a Democratic audience, the patriotism to a swing audience, and the good delivery to the whole country.”

How those last two groups respond to Biden’s energy, message and contrasts with Trump may be the most important question of the general election. That includes the middle of the country fed up with the nation’s direction, tired of its polarized politics and disillusioned by the prospect of a general election featuring two men in their late 70s and early 80s.

The middle of the electorate, including the slice that voted for Nikki Haley in the GOP primaries, could very well decide the outcome of a 2024 presidential election that’s still some 240 days away — whether by voting for Biden or Trump, casting ballots for a third-party candidate or sitting out the election entirely.

Remember, it was Biden’s strength with the middle that helped catapult him to the White House in 2020, when he won independents by 13 points and moderates by 30 points, according to the NBC News exit poll.

Now? The latest NBC News poll has Biden ahead of Trump among moderates by just 13 points and trailing by 6 points among independents — down considerably from 2020.

The good news for Biden is that Thursday’s State of the Union address clearly energized Democrats, took the fight to Trump and tamped down concerns about his age (at least for the time being).

Now, we have to see how long the speech will play (remember, Biden gave an equally forceful and combative State of the Union in early 2023) — and how it will play with the middle and those up-for-grabs Haley voters.

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 🎵It’s his party, and he’ll decree if he wants to: The Ronna McDaniel era of the Republican National Committee is over, with the former president’s picks — Michael Whatley as chair and Lara Trump as co-hair — taking over the RNC. Read more →
  • 👷Jobs, jobs jobs: The U.S. economy added another 275,000 jobs in February, but the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9%. Read more →
  • 📱Call me, maybe? The Washington Post explores how Biden regularly relies on counsel from longtime allies on Capitol Hill before he makes a final decision. Read more →
  • ⚖️The IVF debate isn’t going away: Iowa state House Republicans passed a personhood bill that makes causing the death of an “unborn person” a felony with no carve outs, for IVF or otherwise. Read more →
  • 🟡Debatable: Vice President Harris wouldn’t commit when asked whether if she or Biden would participate in general election debates. Read more →
  • 🗽He’s back: The recently expelled congressman — and even more recent State of the Union guest — George Santos announced Wednesday he is mounting a primary challenge against New York Republican Rep. Nick LaLota. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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