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As top Democrats gather, questions swirl around Joe Biden

The Democratic National Committee will hear from five candidates this week — but it's the politician not there who will likely generate the most attention.

When hundreds of top Democrats from around the country gather in Minneapolis later this week for a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, the main topic of conversation may center on a Democrat who isn't there — Vice President Joe BIden.

All five declared presidential candidates, from front-runner Hillary Clinton to long-shot Lincoln Chafee, will speak Friday to Democratic leaders in an effort to lock down support of committee members, who play key roles as “super delegates" in the party’s nominating process.

RELATED: Joe Biden is no savior for progressives

But Democrats say privately that some of the most intense conversations will surround the future of Biden, who will not be there. The vice president has left the door open on a 2016 presidential run all year, but speculation has reached a fever pitch in recent days as he has seemingly stepped up his exploration of a bid.

Top officials with the Draft Biden Committee — which started as ragtag group of activists and has lately become more professionalized — will hold informal open-house meetings with DNC members in Minneapolis, asking them to keep an open mind about Biden as he makes a decision on a 2016 run.

Though Draft Biden is not officially affiliated with the vice president, the group has been circulating a memo to party leaders ahead of the meeting making "The Case for Biden."

“As Democratic Party leaders and super delegates gather for the Democratic National Committee summer meeting in Minneapolis, it's important to remind ourselves of how conventional wisdom and early polling leaders in past primaries have fallen short,” reads the memo, which was obtained by msnbc. “With such a large percentage of undecided voters and historical precedent tilting in his favor, there is no better moment for Vice President Biden to enter the race.”

Biden aides have been in near daily contact with the DNC about logistics, including debates, sources said.

In recent weeks, the vice president's team has increased outreach to Democratic operatives to gauge interest in working for a Biden bid, telling potential staffers they hope to have a campaign team in place to be ready the day Biden decides on a run. A bid would happen all at once or not at all, and the extremely complicated details have yet to be worked out.

Meanwhile, the vice president has invited top Democratic donors to his home at the Naval Observatory for a meeting after Labor Day, the Washington Post first reported.

And the vice president cut short a vacation on Saturday to meet with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of the party’s liberal wing. Warren allies downplayed the significance of the meeting, and it’s not clear Biden would be a natural fit for her constituency, especially with Bernie Sanders in the race. But the meeting underscores the vice president’s interest in another presidential run.

RELATED: After Warren meeting, signs mount that Biden will run

Even as Biden said publically all year that he was considering a run, aides and allies were convinced until recently that he would ultimately forgo a bid. Some even went to work for Clinton, assured there was little chance of the vice president jumping in.

But now some of those same Democrats are not so sure. Others say Biden is leaning towards a run, with motivations ranging from the personal to the political.

As the vice president’s son, Beau, was dying of brain cancer earlier this year, he reportedly told his father he wanted to see another Biden presidential run. The Oval Office has been something Biden has coveted since at least 1980, when he considered running against incumbent President Jimmy Carter. 

On Monday, CNN reported that President Obama — who would be torn between Biden and Clinton if the vice president decided to run — gave his “blessing” to Biden. Sources close to the White House have said Obama’s thoughts on a Biden run have not changed.

No decision has been made, but Biden would face increasing challenges the longer he waits.

Biden has said he would make a decision by the end of the summer, which some allies now say likely means the end of September. The first major deadline would be mid-October, when Democratic candidates will meet for their first debate. Biden would have to declare by then to make it onstage.

“[T]here is still plenty of time for Vice President Joe Biden to be victorious if he chooses to seek the nomination for President,” the Draft Biden committee memo insists.

The vice president would enter the race as the top challenger to Clinton, meaning sky-high expectations.

RELATED: If Biden jumps into the race, who will Obama support?

He has struggled to raise money in the past, but his supporters claim there are more than 600 top donors to the Obama-Biden 2012 reelection election campaign who have not yet committed to a candidate, and thus could be open to Biden.

Another challenge would be identifying a path to victory, since polls continue to show Clinton dominating the 2016 field and Biden does not have an obvious constituency in his corner. His previous runs illustrate the difficulties he could face. In 1988, a plagiarism scandal kept Biden from making it to the Iowa Caucuses and, in 2008, he finished with less than 1% in the state’s contest and dropped out.

But Biden is stronger than ever at the same time that the field, outside Clinton, is unusually weak, his fans say. They view Biden as the best retail politician in either party today, and believe he could win over grassroots supporters turned off by Clinton’s carefully crafted campaign. Still, like Clinton, security considerations could create a buffer between Biden and fans. Both Democrats are under Secret Service protection.

Those in Obama's orbit, which largely overlaps with Biden's, seem split. Everyone in the White House has great affection for Biden, and some would like to see him run and carry on the Obama-Biden legacy. But others think a bid would actually be bad for the vice president, given the grueling pace of a campaign and long odds of success against Clinton.

No matter what, however, Democrats agree a Biden entry would dramatically shake up the race.