Vice President Joe Biden has long harbored dreams of being president. He’s run twice before, clearly relishes political life, and has yet to rule out a third try – even as Hillary Clinton dominates in fundraising and in polls of Democrats.
After the death on May 30 of Mr. Biden’s beloved elder son, Beau, such talk was put on hold. But in recent days, speculation has begun to soar. New York businessman Jon Cooper, a former Obama fundraising bundler now working on a draft effort to get Biden into the race, told the Monitor Thursday that he puts the probability of Biden running at 80 percent.
“I’m as convinced as I can be that Joe Biden will be entering the presidential race,” said Mr. Cooper, who bases his assessment on signals from Biden’s inner circle, though he can't name names.
Cooper has been sounding out potential donors, and already has commitments from five Obama contributors. On Thursday, Cooper signed on as national finance chair for an independent effort called Draft Biden 2016. Launched in March, the Chicago-based group has collected more than 100,000 signatures, and now has staff on the ground in early nominating states – Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The group has also hired a national fundraising firm.
Biden could also find encouragement in a new CNN/ORC national poll released Wednesday. Without lifting a finger, he is running second in the Democratic field, at 16 percent. Though Biden is well behind former Secretary Clinton (57 percent), he’s in a statistical tie with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont (14 percent), who has been campaigning hard and drawing crowds numbering in the thousands. Perhaps more important, Biden is national Democrats' second-choice candidate, with 35 percent saying he's their second choice and 14 percent choosing Sanders. If Clinton were to falter seriously, Democrats' second-choice candidate could be the biggest beneficiary.
Earlier this week, a report in The Wall Street Journal quoted Biden friends by name saying that before his death, Beau Biden had encouraged his dad to run, as has Biden’s other son, Hunter.
Biden will reportedly state his intentions, either way, by early August. When reached by telephone, former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D) of Delaware, a close friend of Biden’s, declined to comment on the vice president’s thinking. Biden's office also won't comment.
Perhaps the biggest clue that Biden might run is that he and his inner circle have done nothing to stop the draft effort, say draft organizers.
“We have had no communications from anyone in the Biden camp saying, ‘Stop what you’re doing,’ ” William Pierce, executive director of Draft Biden 2016, said in an interview. “Delaware’s a small state, and we talk to the same people, and all we’ve heard is a lot of encouraging communication from people who are close to the vice president.”
Pierce’s group has been holding events in Iowa and other states, and brings a life-size cutout of Biden, called “Cardboard Joe,” to liven things up. At the group’s website, DraftBiden2016.com, merchandise is for sale with the logo “I’m ridin' with Biden,” featuring the veep driving a convertible and wearing his signature aviator sunglasses.
Pundits are skeptical Biden will run and suggest that the media are inflating the possibility to add interest to the Democratic race. If Biden were to run, they doubt he could beat Clinton for the nomination. On Wednesday, Clinton announced a fundraising haul of $45 million for the first three months of her candidacy, a record for a presidential candidate’s first-quarter fundraising.
“It would be a hard catch-up for Biden. He doesn’t have the infrastructure. Who does he go to?” says veteran Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it’s hard.”
Still, Mr. Fenn gets why Biden has kept his options open. Since Harry Truman assumed the presidency after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, most vice presidents have run for the top job, and a few have reached it. Biden, a senator for 36 years before attaining the vice presidency, has long had that presidential gleam in his eye. He first ran in 1988, then again in 2008.
“I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America,” Biden told GQ magazine in July 2013. “But it doesn’t mean I won’t run.”
“Joe’s a thoroughbred,” says Fenn. “He loves this. He sees the gate filling up with other horses, and it’s hard for him not to head for it.”
What about the age issue? Already in his early 70s, Biden would be the oldest person to assume the presidency. But he’s not that much older than Clinton, and he's younger than Senator Sanders. Biden supporters say what matters isn’t age, it’s energy and enthusiasm.
And Biden is nothing if not enthusiastic – sometimes to his embarrassment. Who can forget his hot-mike comment in 2010 as Mr. Obama was about to sign the Affordable Care Act: “This is a big [expletive] deal.” At a campaign appearance in southern Virginia in 2012, Biden again raised eyebrows when he told a predominantly black audience that Republicans are “going to put y'all back in chains."
Biden gaffes are many, but they’re part of what gives him authenticity in a world of overly scripted candidates, analysts say. His life experiences, including a political career bookended by personal tragedy, give him plenty to go on in connecting with voters. Unlike Clinton, Biden is not wealthy, and he doesn’t face the challenge on trustworthiness that she does, amid questions over her private e-mails and Clinton Foundation fundraising.
But by getting into the race relatively late, isn’t there a big chance that Biden would end up only damaging Clinton, the eventual nominee? Fenn, the Democratic strategist, doesn’t see it that way.
“Democrats don’t like coronations,” he says. “They don’t like this notion that someone should be given the nomination without having to work hard and go through their paces. So my sense of this is that at the end, it would be good for Hillary to go through this.”