Biden tests political waters in Florida

MIAMI — Vice President Joe Biden came to Florida to lend a hand to Senate Democrats and the administration’s education agenda Wednesday on a trip watched for any hint that he’ll seek the presidency.

He may have dropped a hint at Miami Dade College, telling a crowd, “People who aren’t willing to risk failing never succeed.”

But the remark, at least on its surface, was about the courage it takes for students to go back to community college after being out for years.

Biden will also attend a fundraiser for Senate Democrats, mingling with the types of donors he’d need to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Altogether, he’s kicked off a series of events in the next week allowing him to defend President Barack Obama’s record.

At Miami Dade College, Biden said he and Obama had sought to address the economic disparities between the wealthy and poor and that the nation was on the verge of an “economic renaissance.” He spoke about the Obama administration’s plan to provide two years of free community college to students as a building block for future generations.

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Noting the large press corps following him, Biden joked, “Their interest in community college has impressed me greatly!” At one point during his speech, what appeared to be a butterfly soared overhead, prompting Biden to quip: “The butterfly agrees with me!” He later brushed off reporters’ questions on whether he would run.

Interest in a Biden bid has intensified in recent weeks as Clinton has struggled with what some Democrats consider a lackluster start to her campaign and scrutiny over her use of a private email account and server as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state.

“There’s a malaise inside the race right now with Clinton,” said Tony Bisagnano, an Iowa state senator who backed Biden’s campaign in 2008 and wants him to run again. “People I know who are supporting her are not necessarily withdrawing, but are unenthusiastic.”

But he cautioned: “We’re getting close to where it’s going to be a tough race if he waits much longer.”

A Democrat familiar with Biden’s deliberations said recent discussions have focused on whether Biden’s family would be ready to pursue a third presidential campaign only months after the death of the vice president’s son, Beau Biden.

Also under consideration is whether Biden can meet the basic criteria to be a serious contender, such as whether he would have a plausible path to victory in the campaign and whether he would be able to raise enough money to be competitive.

The Democrat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the private conversations.

Biden’s trip to Florida, one of the nation’s premiere campaign battleground states, includes meetings with Jewish leaders on Thursday who are skeptical of Obama’s effort to win support for a nuclear deal with Iran.

When his plane touched down in Miami, Biden was greeted on the tarmac by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and airport director Amelio Jimenez, sharing laughs with them and slipping both officials vice presidential challenge coins.

At the college, he toured a biotechnology lab, where a student asked if he wanted to join in her work. “I’m going to watch,” Biden joked, looking at the press corps. “I can see the press headline: ‘Biden screws up experiment.’”

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On Thursday night, Biden will pitch the Iran deal in an address to Jewish leaders in Atlanta. He then heads to Pittsburgh to march in a Labor Day parade on Monday with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who met privately with the vice president last week and says “the field is still wide open” if Biden decides to run.

The travels mark the latest chapter in Biden’s deliberations, which have included private discussions with family members and longtime aides at his Delaware home and a Naval Observatory meeting with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a popular liberal whose endorsement would be coveted by any Democratic candidate.

The discussions come as Biden and his family mourn the death of Beau Biden, the former Delaware attorney general.

“I know he’s still going through a lot of pain and suffering over the loss of his son,” said Steve Shurtleff, the New Hampshire House Democratic leader who backed Biden’s unsuccessful 2008 primary campaign. “His brain may be telling him one thing but his heart may be telling him another thing.”

Biden is expected to decide within a month and Democrats say he would need to join the field in advance of the first televised debate on Oct. 13. Should he do so, he’ll face several major obstacles against a field that includes Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and others.

Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Seward, Alaska, contributed to this report.

Joe Biden

Biden tests political waters in Florida