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Hillary who? Biden courts Iowa, South Carolina voters

Clinton is already piling up 2016 endorsements. Then there's Biden, who — despite the lack of a similar public groundswell — is acting every bit a candidate.
U.S Vice President Joe Biden speaks at The Newseum on May 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.
U.S Vice President Joe Biden speaks at The Newseum on May 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Hillary Clinton is already piling up 2016 endorsements and support from cash-rich super PACs -- even though she claims she’s still only “thinking” about running for the nation’s highest office. And then there's Vice President Joe Biden, who -- despite the lack of a similar public groundswell -- is acting every bit the 2016 candidate.

Earlier this week, Biden made a surprise appearance at a Washington D.C. party filled with almost 200 Iowans in town for an annual lobbying trip. And on Friday he traveled to South Carolina to raise money for Democrats and deliver a commencement speech at the University of South Carolina.

Iowa and South Carolina, of course, are early voting states and thus crucial in building momentum to secure a presidential nomination. Susan Ramsey, a spokeswoman for the Greater Des Moines Partnership -- the group that was in D.C. -- told msnbc that Biden stayed at the party at a hotel for about 45 minutes. He mingled with guests but did not deliver prepared remarks.

“We are frequently courted by anyone who is rumored with the potential to be a candidate,” Ramsey noted.

Biden has made it clear that he’s considering running for his boss’ seat, even as polling continually shows him significantly trailing Clinton. According to a Suffolk University poll released last month,  63% of self-described Iowa caucus voters supported Clinton as their first choice for the party’s nomination. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren came in second with 12%, followed by Biden in third with 10%.

Biden doesn’t have a political action committee raising money on his behalf like Clinton (the Ready for Hillary PAC has already raked in more than $5.75 million since it launched a little over a year ago). Nor are opposition forces lining up to strategize and raise cash to derail a potential Biden campaign. There are no “Stop Biden 2016” initiatives like the one Clinton faces with Stop Hillary 2016. And Biden has none of the high-profile, Democratic endorsements such as Clinton has recently won from Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- both of whom backed Biden’s current boss over Hillary in 2008.

Biden -- who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1988 and 2008 -- is in a tricky position. Polls show Clinton is a heavy favorite over pretty much any Republican -- not to mention the historic nature of her potential status as the country’s first woman president. Many Americans think it's simply Clinton’s “turn” after running in 2008 and then serving faithfully under her fierce competitor for four years as secretary of state.

And plus, Biden and Clinton get along quite well. The two frequently used to have breakfast together, and shared Amtrak rides when they were senators. Biden reportedly sometimes ends calls with Clinton by saying “I love you, darling.”

Obama, perhaps, is in the most awkward position of all when it comes to backing Biden or Clinton. In a seeming kiss of death for Biden, the commander-in-chief at the White House Correspondents Dinner last weekend seemed to suggest a Clinton presidency was all but certain.

As msnbc reported, Obama told the crowd: “Everywhere I look there are reminders that I only hold this job temporarily,” nodding to a photo of his office filled with moving boxes reading “Hillary’s Oval,” “Hold for Hillary,” and “Hillary – Oval.” He also referred to Clinton having to dodge a flying shoe at a recent press conference. Obama joked that Biden was the shoe-thrower. 

Still, Biden seems to be positioning himself for a run. He’s been to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the past year, is beefing up his foreign credentials by going to Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania to show support following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region in Ukraine, and is frequently weighing in on 2016.

Some analysts have remarked that Biden is simply covering his bases in the event that Clinton decides not to run.

But former U.S. Sen. Ted Kaufman, a former Biden chief of staff who succeeded the vice president in the upper chamber of Congress, told msnbc that he thinks Biden hasn’t made a decision. As for the trips to Iowa and South Carolina? Biden genuinely has a lot of friends there and wants to help his fellow Democrats raise money, said Kaufman.  

“There are so many considerations to run for president. He’s pretty much said it will be based on whether he thinks he can fill the agenda for the country [despite what Clinton decides] and that he’ll make his decision next summer. I hold him to his word,” he added.

A spokesperson for Biden did not respond to requests for comment.