Will he or won’t he? Political junkies can’t stop speculating about Vice President Joe Biden, and whether he will defy the political odds and run for president in 2016.
Some of the buzz has been fueled by the veep himself.
A column by Maureen Dowd last month contained intimate details of a conversation between Biden and his oldest son, Beau, who, before his death, the column says, urged his father to run for president. Political observers noted the details could only have come from one of the two people in the room, namely the vice president.
And Biden has commented on a potential run, during a conference call with members of the DNC, and at an Atlanta synagogue Thursday, during a two-day southern swing to soothe Jewish Democrats over the Iran nuclear deal, and fund-raise for the party.
During a stop in Florida, Biden spoke at Miami-Dade Community College about the need to restore hope to the middle class, sounding like a somewhat deflated version of the ebullient figure Americans have come to know over the last six-and-a-half years, but covering themes that would benefit a Democratic presidential candidate.
At a closed-door meeting with Jewish Democrats Thursday morning, sources said Biden basked in the warm relationships he has developed over a lifetime in politics.
“I thought the vice president was phenomenal,” said Andrew Weinstein, a leader within South Florida’s Jewish community and a major Democratic fundraiser. “He spent about three hours taking some very tough and pointed questions about the Iran deal, and made very passionate, detailed argument as to why he believes it is in best interests of the U.S., Israel and the Gulf states.”
Indeed, Biden’s foreign policy knowledge and relationships, and his strong connections within core constituencies of the Democratic Party would put him in a strong position were he to vie for the White House. And as President Obama’s No. 2, there are Democrats who wonder why he shouldn’t be Obama’s natural successor.
But it is Biden’s personal qualities that most people point to that could make him a formidable candidate.
“The thing that really stood out to me is that he really resonated with the people in that room,” Weinstein said. “And keep in mind these were people, many of whom are not supportive of the position he was there to advocate for.”
“I think at this point he’s trying to find a reason not to [run],” said longtime Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, days before Biden’s southern swing, adding that the opening for Biden may have to do with a perceived enthusiasm deficit for Hillary Clinton – one her campaign supporters firmly dispute exists.
Simmons added “[There are] young activists I talk to who are not excited about [Clinton’s] campaign. They call up the office and ask, is there a Senate race you can help get me on? But they don’t express any interest in getting into the presidential campaign.”
The hope among members of the Draft Biden super PAC – which has begun staffing up in the key swing states of Florida, South Carolina and most recently, Iowa – is that some of those young operatives, particularly those who cut their teeth on the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns, could get excited about a Biden campaign, given his close ties to Obama, and to progressive policy advances like same-sex marriage.
“I think we are all trying to read the tea leaves, but he is definitely giving plenty of indications that he is very seriously considering getting in the race,” said Steve Schale, who ran Obama’s successful Florida campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and who recently joined Draft Biden.
Schale, one of the Sunshine State’s most experienced political hands, sees several reasons for Biden to get in. “First, I think our side needs a spark,” he said. “While the GOP primary is a pure debacle, it is dominating the news. Democrats I talk to are just going through the motions. Just the mere mention of Joe Biden considering getting in the race has heightened the interest on our side, and as we learned in 2008, having a robust primary is good for the party.”
“Secondly, I think he uniquely prepared for the moment,” Schale continued. “In nearly every poll released over the last few weeks, Joe Biden has the highest favorable ratings of any major candidate in either party.”
And yet, Biden fails to poll higher than a distant third place in any recent poll, behind Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. And many Democrats doubt he can amass the campaign infrastructure, or frankly, the money to run.
Biden dismissed those barriers during the Q&A following his speech in Atlanta, saying “I’ll be straight forward with you, the most relevant factor in my decision is whether my family and I have the emotional energy to run. … And everybody talks about a lot of other factors. Other people raise whether I can raise the money and whether I can get an organization. That’s not the factor.”
Still, in Miami, Democrats expressed the same concerns. And a source with knowledge of the private meeting Biden recently held with Sen. Elizabeth Warren said some in the room also were unhappy with the vice president’s ardent praise of Sanders.
That source said they came away from the meeting certain that Biden wants to run, and that he may be looking to be the party’s “back-up plan” should the Clinton campaign falter.
But strategists agree Biden’s window is limited, and that he needs to make a decision, one way or another, by October, when much of the financial window would close.