PHOENIX -- The 2024 presidential election is drawing an unusually robust field of independent, third-party and long-shot candidates hoping to capitalize on Americans' ambivalence and frustration over a likely rematch between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump.
Those looking to blaze a new path to the White House range from members of Congress to a prominent academic and a scion of one of the country's most prominent political families.
Their odds are exceedingly long.
George Washington was the only person to win the presidency without a party affiliation. An incumbent has not lost his party's presidential nomination since Democrats passed over Franklin Pierce in 1856. Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 marked the last time someone from a new party -- in his case, the Republican Party -- won the White House.
But with the United States deeply divided and somewhat anxious about the prospect of another Biden-Trump campaign, third-party candidates insist voters are restless enough to defy history.
"This is really fertile ground now for independent politics," Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee in 2012 and 2016, said in an interview. "There's so much hunger for a principled politics, a politics of integrity and for options outside of the two zombie candidates that are being forced down our throats and the two zombie political parties."
Little-known candidates with no chance of victory run every year and sometimes piece together enough votes to make a difference in close races, even if they do not win. But the activity this fall has been notable.
Stein, a physician and environmental activist, announced earlier this month that she will make her third bid for the presidency in 2024, reversing course from her earlier decision to remain on the sidelines next year and support Cornel West, a scholar and progressive activist with a loyal following on the left. West announced early last month that he no longer was running under the Green Party banner but as an independent.
Seventy-five percent of Americans think Biden should not run for president again and 69% think Trump should not, according to an August poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Both men are underwater with their approval ratings, meaning more Americans view them unfavorably than favorably.
Americans think Biden, 81, is too old, and they are divided about criminal charges against Trump, 77, who has been indicted four times and is facing trial next year.
Nearly 80% said Biden is too old to be effective for four more years. About half of Americans approved of the Justice Department's indicting Trump over his efforts to remain in office after losing the 2020 election to Biden.
Conscious of their candidates' middling approval ratings, Democrats and Republicans are watching the third-party campaigns with wariness.
Many Democrats blame Stein for Trump's victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Stein won 1.5 million votes as Trump defeated Clinton by the slimmest of margins in a few swing states. The reasoning goes that many of the voters supporting a progressive environmental activist would likely have chosen Clinton if forced to choose between the major parties.
Stein takes umbrage at the suggestion that votes can be "stolen" from the major parties.
Meanwhile, a little-known Minnesota congressman is challenging Biden in the Democratic primary. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota says Democrats are sleepwalking into disaster with their march toward renominating an unpopular president who is the oldest person to hold the office.
"I'm just saying the quiet part out loud," Phillips said in an interview in South Carolina. "Everybody else is still staying in line, shushing up, sitting down and doing what you do to make sure you get the money for your next election."
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., last month, ended his Democratic primary challenge to Biden and is running instead as an independent. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist, has higher approval ratings among Republicans than Democrats despite his deep familial ties to the Democratic Party. Kennedy's uncle was President John F. Kennedy, and his father was Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Kennedy has developed close relationships with far-right figures and has a kinship with some conservatives drawn to his fringe views, including his vocal distrust of covid-19 vaccines, which studies have shown are safe and effective against severe disease and death.
His anti-vaccine organization, Children's Health Defense, currently has a lawsuit pending against a number of news organizations, among them The Associated Press, accusing them of violating antitrust laws by taking action to identify misinformation, including about covid-19 and covid-19 vaccines. Kennedy took leave from the group when he announced his run for president but is listed as one of its attorneys in the lawsuit.
No Labels, a well-funded group that is laying the groundwork for a possible bipartisan ticket, is working toward ballot access in all 50 states, with more than a dozen already approved. The plan has caused increasing anxiety among Democrats who believe its support will come primarily from would-be Biden voters, easing Trump's path back to the White House. If the group managed to win one or more states, it could result in no candidate receiving a majority of the Electoral College votes and the election being decided by the House of Representatives.
No Labels has said little about how it will choose a candidate. The party planned to release a selection process in October, but the timeline slipped to November, and it appears to be slipping further.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced this month he will not run for reelection next year but will travel the country to consider an independent presidential campaign. At the same time, a new group emerged calling for Manchin and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, to run under the No Labels ticket.
The group is raising money for polling to test the viability of a bipartisan ticket with the two retiring senators, starting in Arizona and Michigan, according to Jennifer Franks, chairman of the Draft Romney/Manchin Committee.
Manchin said he will seek to invigorate centrists who feel left out of the political system, and he will consider running if no one emerges to represent their interests in the presidential campaign.
"I'm not going out there running," Manchin told reporters in West Virginia. "I'm going out there with the mission to bring Americans together."
Information for this article was contributed by Meg Kinnard and Leah Willingham of The Associated Press.