Joe Biden for president? The Hillary Clinton factor looms large

A Biden decision to run could boil down to whether Hillary Clinton is seen as being in 'deep trouble' over her e-mails.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
Vice President Joe Biden listens to remarks to the media during a meeting between President Obama and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in this May photo. Mr. Biden has yet to make a decision on a run for the presidency.

The political world got a jolt last weekend when a vacationing Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Washington to meet with liberal darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts.

Was Vice President Biden sounding her out for an endorsement, should he decide to run for president? After all, Senator Warren has yet to choose up sides in the Democratic nomination race. Maybe the veep is toying with a Biden-Warren ticket? It’s way too soon for that one, but always fun to speculate.

News reports indicate the two talked about economic policy, and according to a “Biden supporter,” the meeting means that the vice president has moved from “potential” to “likely” candidate.  As a general rule, those who know aren’t talking and those who are talking don’t know. But suffice it to say, Biden’s unexpected detour from summer vacation signaled something. He is expected to make a decision, up or down, by the end of September.

Many factors are in play, but the biggest of all may be the struggle of Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to put the flap over her e-mails behind her. Since March, when the story broke that she used only a personal e-mail account and server during her time as secretary – and then deleted the e-mails she deemed “personal” – voters’ views of her honesty and trustworthiness have declined

Mrs. Clinton’s overall favorability rating has also steadily trickled downward, from 53 percent in mid-March to 44 percent in mid-August, according to the CNN/ORC poll

The biggest problem for Clinton is that there’s no end in sight with the drip, drip, drip of the e-mail saga. Campaign aides and outside groups insist she’s done nothing wrong.

But prominent Democrats have begun to wonder out loud about a Biden candidacy.

“All I can say is, if I were Hillary, I would say [to Biden], ‘Don’t jump in,’ ” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “If I were Joe Biden, I’d probably give it very serious consideration.”

The other major candidate in the Democratic nomination race, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, has a devoted following and draws large crowds, but the self-declared Democratic Socialist is seen as too left-wing to win the nomination. In the latest RealClearPolitics national average, Clinton beats Senator Sanders 49 percent to 25 percent. As a noncandidate, Biden polls at 12 percent.

As Biden contemplates his political future, the Clinton e-mail situation is perhaps the hardest to game out. Earlier this month, her attorney handed over the private server and a thumb drive to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The inspectors general of the State Department and the Intelligence Community are running investigations. To date, a State Department review has found that as many as 305 messages previously turned over may have contained classified information.

“I think there’s a certain amount of wait-and-see regarding Hillary’s situation,” says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, who is not affiliated with a presidential campaign.

But, Mr. Fenn adds, what drives Biden to consider a third try at the presidency is his belief that he’d be a good president.

“This is obviously something he’s wanted and has been part of who he is for a long, long time,” he says. “But you know, I really think you don’t pull the trigger on this if you’re in his position unless you’re pretty darn sure that she’s in deep trouble.”

Another factor that could give Biden pause is polling data that shows Clinton holding steady in the esteem of Democratic voters. Even with all the negative headlines about her e-mails, Clinton still has a net favorable score of 60 percentage points among Democrats, with 77 percent viewing her positively and 17 percent viewing her negatively, according to Gallup data released Aug. 21.

Gallup data released six weeks earlier showed Clinton with the same net favorable score of 60.

Unlike Biden, Clinton has long been actively preparing another run at the presidency, including lining up donors and staff, and getting organized for the primaries. Biden has only begun to have serious conversations with his “kitchen cabinet” about a possible campaign in recent weeks, according to news reports. A group called Draft Biden, which launched in March, has been raising money in the hopes that Biden will get in.

When Biden ran for president in 1988 and 2008, he fared poorly. After 36 years in the Senate, he seemed destined to be a lifer there. But when Barack Obama chose him for the ticket in 2008, Biden moved one step closer to the Oval Office, and earned widespread affection in the White House as “Uncle Joe.” Famous for his exuberant style, and the occasional gaffe, Biden wins praise for his authenticity.

When Biden’s son Beau died in May, some observers assumed that would rule out another presidential campaign. But with reports that both of Biden’s sons wanted him to run again, speculation picked up.

Biden is in his early 70s, and so this is his last shot. And ultimately, says Fenn, his decision will be “very much of a gut thing.”

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