Republican CEO of Dick’s floats third-party bid in move that could play spoiler for Trump

Ed Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, is considering a third-party presidential bid in 2020, according to a focus group participant

Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO is considering launching a third-party presidential bid, which could pull votes away from Donald Trump in 2020.

Ed Stack, a longtime Republican donor, is testing the waters for a run, a participant in a southern Wisconsin focus group told Politico.

The individual said the focus group ran through different situations involving the billionaire businessman, including possible three-way general election matchups with Stack, Trump and Democratic primary frontrunners Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren.

In the testing, the participants said it focused a lot on Stack ‘showing leadership’ by halting assault-style rifle sales at Dick’s stores following the high school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in February 2018.

Despite news of the focus group, a source familiar with Stack’s thinking said he would not be seeking political office.

‘Mr. Stack enjoys running Dick’s Sporting Goods and has no plans to run for any elected office,’ the source said of the 64-year-old billionaire.

The participants said people were concerned with Stack’s age.

“[Focus group members] mentioned that if Biden’s getting the criticism that he looked old, Ed Stack didn’t look young either,” the source detailed.

Biden, 76, and Bernie Sanders, 78, have faced criticism over their age, health and potentially deteriorating mental capacity to be able to hold the office of the presidency. Sanders especially has taken heat following a heart attack earlier this month and his admission that he was feeling more ‘fatigued’ than usual ahead of the health scare.

If Biden or Sanders were to win in 2020, they would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. Trump currently holds that title, as he was inaugurated in January 2017 at the age of 70. Ronald Reagan was just over two weeks shy of his 70 birthday when he was sworn in.

The focus group member also said some felt Stack ‘didn’t have the charisma it would take to attract a coalition that you’d need to have a chance as a third-party candidate.’ 

The 64-year-old's bid, if it were to come to fruition, could be a spoiler for Donald Trump's reelection bid, as Stack is a longtime Republican donor

The 64-year-old’s bid, if it were to come to fruition, could be a spoiler for Donald Trump’s reelection bid, as Stack is a longtime Republican donor

Joe Biden

Elizabeth Warren

The focus group participants said they were given two example general election ballots where in one Stack and Trump were up against Joe Biden (left) and in the other Elizabeth Warren (right. Biden and Warren are the Democratic primary front runners

Those in the focus group were shown short videos of 2020 contenders – including former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz who ruled out an independent bid in September. About eight or nine videos, however, included messaging from Stack, the participants revealed.

After the videos were viewed, participants were asked if they were ‘open to voting for a third party candidate.’

If a well-funded, high profile Republican were to run as a third-party candidate, it could throw off Trump’s reelection bid as he hovers below 50 per cent in most national polls. Stack has his personal wealth, similar to Trump’s, and garnered national attention last year when he said Dick’s would destroy $5 million in assault-style weapons and alter its gun sale policies.

In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton with only 46 per cent of the popular vote compared to the former secretary of state’s 48 per cent.

At the end of the focus group session, participants were asked to vote on sample ballots that matched up Stack, Biden and Trump and another ballot that included Stack, Warren and Trump.

Trump is also already facing three Republican primary challenges, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, but none have posed any real threat to his candidacy, and the president has referred to the trio as the ‘Three Stooges.’

On the other hand, 19 Democrats are still running in the party’s primary election, but former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said he would drop out of the race if his campaign didn’t raise $800,000 by the end of this month.

Stack has upped his media presence recently with the release of his book ‘It’s How We Play the Game,’ and has also weighed in on politics – including taking aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for failing to make any progress on gun reform legislation.

‘I wish he’d have the guts to bring it to a vote,’ Stack said in one media appearance.

Although an adviser to Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party presidential bids in 2012 and 2016 said Stack’s name has come up in discussions about a run for president, he highlighted the uphill battle associated with that path.

‘It’s massive; all the structural, institutional barriers are really, really difficult,’ Joe Hunter said. ‘Absent having extraordinary resources, it would be difficult to put it together.’

Stack has won accolades for his decision to change gun sales in all Dick’s stores, but also faced a backlash, especially from the National Rifle Association.

He also is a major Republican donor. He gave $100,000 in 2012 to a Super Political Action Committee that backed Mitt Romney in his run against Barack Obama, and another $10,000 to the Pennsylvania Republican Committee. He has also donated to GOP lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

More recently, however, he has drawn criticism from Republicans for his $300,000 contribution to a super PAC supporting House Democrats – even though the donation was aimed at benefiting Democratic New York congressional candidate Katie Myers, who is his sister. 

Both political parties are opposed to third-party candidates that lean their directions. Recently, Democratic 2020 contender Tulsi Gabbard has come under fire after Hillary Clinton said Russia was ‘grooming’ her to run as a spoiler third-party candidate for Democrats.

Gabbard, a Hawaii representative and active Army National Guard officer, has vehemently denied the allegations and ruled out the potential of running as a third party candidate should she lose the Democratic nomination.