Vice President Joe Biden has been thinking about a presidential run for a long time -- at since at least 1980, when he considered, but abandoned a prospective challenge to incumbent Jimmy Carter.
Lately, however, Biden has been preoccupied by the health of his eldest son, Beau, who passed away two months ago.
Beau told his father he wanted the vice president take one more shot at the top job, sources confirmed to msnbc, and in the wake of son’s death, Biden has experienced an outpouring of support from longtime friends and admirers. Conversations with old friends that started about Beau have often ended in suggestions that Biden challenge presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton.
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The vice president has never closed to the door on running for president in 2016. In televised interviews, private meetings, and ropeline conversations with supporters, Biden has for the past year maintained that he’s still openly considering a bid.
But as he get's closer to a self-imposed late-summer deadline, he's taking an even closer look at it, prompting a spate of new media coverage.
Biden and his allies, many of whom asked not to be named, believe Clinton is weakened, but they know that running against her would not be easy. Here are some questions Biden's allies are considering:
1. Will Clinton run on Obama’s legacy? Biden has said exactly what he thinks the Democrat Party's presidential nominee should do in 2016. "In my view, those seeking to lead the nation should protect and defend, and run -- yes, run -- on what we’ve done [in the Obama-Biden administration], own what we have done, stand for what we have done,” he said in Iowa in February. “Some say that would amount to a third term of the president. I call it sticking to what works and what we ought to do.”
That sounds an awful lot like Biden, but it could also be Clinton. If Clinton embraces the Obama administration wholeheartedly and promises to protect and expand the policies of the current administration, Biden may be less likely to take the plunge, sources say. Biden has planted a clear marker in numerous speeches about his intention to defend the Obama-Biden legacy against Democratic defenders, including Clinton. So far, she has followed Obama's lead on almost everything, even to the point of getting raked over the coals on the Keystone Pipeline and the Trans Pacific Partnership Treaty.
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2. Can he raise the money? Biden’s biggest and most immediate challenge if he were to enter the race would be fundraising. Biden has never really had to worry about buck raking, coming from the tiny state of Deleware.
Unlike, say, New York, where Clinton set fundraising records on both her Senate campaign, Delaware has only two media markets and campaigns are relatively inexpensive there. It's also a strongly Democratic state. In his seven campaigns for the Senate, Biden almost always faced weak Republican challengers, so he didn't need to raise huge sums of money.
The weakness of his national fundraising chops was visible during his last presidential bid. Biden raised a respectable $11.3 million in 2007, but that was well short of the $20 million goal he set for himself. He raised another $3.2 million in 2008 before dropping out.
By contrast, Clinton has already raised $46 million in just three months -- almost triple Biden’s haul for the entire 2008 cycle. The presidential election is expected to cost each party's nominee over $1 billion, and Biden would have to convince his party he can raise the funds. That would be a very tall order, even if he can somehow raise enough money to compete with Clinton in the primary.
The bar is especially high for Biden because, as vice president, his campaign would need to reimburse the government for Secret Service protection, flights on Air Force Two, and other costs incurred on political trips. For instance, the Democratic National Committee reimbursed the government at a rate of $179,750 per hour for use of Obama's (much larger and more expensive) Air Force One in 2012.
Sure, Biden could build campaign events around official events carefully scheduled in key states -- like his swing through Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina earlier this year -- but only to a certain extent.
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3. Is it too late? Former Obama strategist David Axelrod said on NBC’s “Today” show Monday that he would advise Biden against running for president, given Clinton’s enormous “head start.” “I know what it takes to put a presidential campaign together and it is late in the game,” Axelrod said.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell agreed in an interview on MSNBC. “It's late to start making a campaign."
Even though we’re still seven months away from the Iowa Caucuses, it would be very difficult for Biden to find room in a field dominated by Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Sen. Bernie Sanders. While some successful candidates, like Bill Clinton in 1992, have waited as late as October to enter the race, the field was usually weaker and lacked a clear frontrunner. He'd have a lot of catching up to do.
4. Can he hire the staff? A related challenge for Biden would be attracting a team of top strategists. Clinton has hoarded many of the Democratic Party’s most respected talent -- including some who have worked for Biden. Several of Biden’s closest lieutenants, including former Chief of Staff Ron Klein, have signed on to help Clinton, presumably with permission from the vice president.
There are certainly plenty more, smart Democratic operatives out there who didn't get work on Clinton's campaign, but some might be afraid to sign on with Biden and risk being frozen out of a potential Clinton administration or campaign.
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5. Who are the Biden Democrats? Biden is beloved by Democrats in general, but so is Clinton, and it’s unclear whom Biden could peel off to build his own support base. Sanders has so far consolidated support among liberals unhappy with Clinton, who herself will likely outperform among women, so it's not clear what alley is left for Biden.
Democrats fret over Clinton's vulnerabilitiesAug. 3, 201505:14
Biden often calls himself “Middle-Class Joe” and may have an easier time connecting with blue-collar voters in a retail setting than Clinton, but he's yet to show that can translate to national electoral success. Obama, for instance, had a more unique connection with African-American voters in 2008.
"There is not much difference between Clinton, Obama and Biden. None of them are willing to challenge the bankers and Wall Street promoters of austerity," Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal group that has argued Clinton is too centrist, told NBC News.
Biden has run for president twice and both times came up well short. In 2008, the then-senator invested heavily in Iowa, spending 120 days in the state over the course of 35 trips. But in the end he got less than 1% of the vote and earned just 23 delegates out of 2,500 – fewer even than former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Biden is far more well-known now, thanks to his tenure in the White House, but he’ll still have to identify constituencies where he can beat Clinton.
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6. Is Clinton really that vulnerable? The former secretary of state’s polling numbers have slid, but she’s still leaving her challengers in the dust. Clinton's favorability rating has gone from a net positive +4 points in June to a net negative -11 points in July, according to a new NBC News poll released Monday evening. That's bad, but she still leads the Democratic horse race by 34 points, and her favorability rating is better than Jeb Bush's. In other polls, Biden has rarely creeped above the low teens and is more seen as the party's best fallback option.
7. Are there potential issues in his record? Biden has been in Washington almost his entire adult life and that means a lot of votes that could be used against him if he posed a real threat to Clinton.
For instance, as the White House pushes for criminal justice reform, Biden was the chief author of the 1994 crime bill, which has become controversial in a time of heightened sensitivity to police brutality. Bill Clinton, who signed the bill, recently recanted his support, saying the law went too far. And Hillary Clinton has called for dramatically scaling back tough-on-crime legislation, some of which bares Biden's fingerprints. Biden has also been one of the most higher-profile opponents of relaxing marijuana laws, another hot topic in criminal justice reform.
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8. What does his family want? When it comes to Biden, this is always the most important question. Biden keeps a tight circle around him, and his family are among his top political advisers. “That’s a family personal decision,” Biden said in Iowa when asked about a presidential run.
Beau told his father he wanted the VP to run, sources confirmed to msnbc, as did his younger son Hunter. But are the rest of his family on board on board?
“Joe Biden has two passions in life. The first and the second and the third are always going to be his family,” said Teri Goodman, an Iowa Democratic official and Biden friend. “But I know he has always had a desire to serve as president. So I think he’s in a difficult position because these two passions are in tension right now, because of the very tragic loss of his son. …. So it’s going to be a very difficult decision.”
Biden considered running in 2004, but his family ultimately dissuaded him, according to a source familiar with the situation. Will this time be different? Stay tuned.