After more than 40 years pursuing a singular dream in Washington, Joe Biden finally, reluctantly, let his last and best chance at the highest office in the land slip away Wednesday, removing a major obstacle for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Flanked by his wife and the young president who shared the ticket with the elder statesman, Vice President Biden announced Wednesday from the Rose Garden of the White House that he will not run for president in 2016.
“I believe we’re out of time. The time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination,” Biden declared in a hastily arranged statement. “While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent. I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.”
Despite taking shots at Clinton in recent days, Biden acknowledged – without saying her name – that it would likely be impossible for him to beat her in the Democratic primary. Clinton has more than $33 million in the bank, a staff of hundreds and the support of most Democrats. Biden has none of that.
When Biden took the job of vice president, after a disappointing 2008 presidential bid, he made it clear he had no intention of running again when Obama’s term was up. That paved the way for the former secretary of state to coalesce support from Democratic Party leaders and lay the groundwork to succeed the president who beat both her and Biden in the last Democratic primary.
But the untimely death this summer of Biden’s cherished eldest son, Beau, and his dying wish that his father give the presidency one last go, changed everything. Advisers began taking clear steps to prepare for a run, interviewing potential staffers, exploring contracts with vendors and researching filing deadlines and other procedures in key states.
A draft committee, founded by a low-level former Obama volunteer, suddenly attracted well known Obama operatives and a close aide to Beau Biden. The vice president himself met with labor leaders and donors, senators and activists, and talked openly about his preparations for a run.
As recently as Tuesday, top Democratic and labor officials were convinced Biden would throw his hat in the ring, even as many analysts pointed out that the vice president had waited too long.
On Wednesday, after so much hype and speculation, Biden acknowledged that the “window” for a run had “closed.”
In recent days, Biden closed his drawn-out deliberation process by taking some thinly veiled jabs clearly aimed at Clinton. In public appearances in the past three days, Biden repeatedly said the vice president is more important than the secretary of state; he took issue Clinton’s characterization of Republicans as a proud “enemy” she had made; and he contradicted her and others’ recollection of how the administration decided to after Osama Bin Laden.
Without mentioning Clinton by name Wednesday, Biden warned that Democrats in 2016 need to run on and defend the legacy of the Obama administration. Clinton has lately broken publicly with the White House, including on a number of top-tier issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty.
“This party, our nation, will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy. The american people have worked too hard, and we’ve come too far for that,” Biden said. “Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record, they should run on the record. We’ve got a lot of work to get done over the next 15 months, and there’s a lot of the – there’s a lot that the president will have to get done.”
The decision could be a huge boost for Clinton, whose campaign had been bracing for Biden to enter the race. Her poll numbers are likely to see a bounce almost immediately, as many Democrats who had said they would support Biden move to her camp.
It could also be bad news for challenger Bernie Sanders, who would have been helped by Biden splitting the the mainstream Democratic vote. According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, when Biden is removed from the race, Clinton leads challenger Bernie Sanders 58-33%.
The vice president would have faced long odds if he got in the race now, entering the campaign with a huge deficit in money, organizing and endorsements after vacillating for months. Still, he was taking clear steps to prepare for a run, interviewing potential staffers, exploring contracts with potentials vendors and researching filing deadlines and other procedures.
The activity had left many, if not most, Democratic operatives in recent days convinced Biden would take the plunge, even as it was clear Biden himself had not made up his mind.
This speech may be coda of sorts of a long career for Biden, who was elected to the Senate at age 29. “We can do so much more,” Biden concluded Wednesday, looking to Obama. “And I’m looking forward to working with this guy to get it done.”