Vice President Joe Biden is headed to Florida, where he's sure to get a glimpse of his presidential prospects as he considers a late entry into the 2016 Democratic primaries.
Biden plans to appear at Miami Dade College and headline a private fundraiser for Senate Democrats on Wednesday as he mulls a potential challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. Interest in a Biden bid has intensified in recent weeks as Clinton has struggled with what some Democrats consider a lackluster start to her campaign and scrutiny over her use of a private email account and server as President Barack Obama's secretary of state.
"There's a malaise inside the race right now with Clinton. People I know who are supporting her are not necessarily withdrawing, but are unenthusiastic," said Tony Bisagnano, an Iowa state senator who backed Biden's campaign in 2008 and wants him to run again.
But he cautioned: "We're getting close to where it's going to be a tough race if he waits much longer."
A Democrat familiar with Biden's deliberations said recent discussions have focused on whether Biden's family would be ready to pursue a third presidential campaign only months after the death of the vice president's son, Beau Biden.
Also under consideration is whether Biden can meet the basic criteria to be a serious contender, such as whether he would have a plausible path to victory in the campaign and whether he would be able to raise enough money to be competitive.
The Democrat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the private conversations.
Biden's overnight trip to Florida, one of the nation's premiere campaign battleground states, will include a Wednesday night fundraiser alongside Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to benefit the Senate Democrats' campaign arm and meetings with Jewish leaders on Thursday morning who are skeptical of Obama's effort to win support for a nuclear deal with Iran.
On Thursday night, Biden will pitch the Iran deal in an address to Jewish leaders in Atlanta. He then heads to Pittsburgh to march in a Labor Day parade on Monday with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who met privately with the vice president last week.
Trumka, speaking to reporters at a breakfast on Tuesday, suggested Biden still has a valid path if he decides to enter the race, noting that many voters are just beginning to pay attention to the process. "The field is still wide open. There's still a lot of time," Trumka said.
The travel to Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania will mark the latest chapter in Biden's deliberations, which have included private discussions with family members and longtime aides at his Delaware home and a Naval Observatory meeting with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a popular liberal whose endorsement would be coveted by any Democratic candidate.
The discussions come even as Biden and his family mourn the death of Beau Biden, the former Delaware attorney general.
"I know he's still going through a lot of pain and suffering over the loss of his son," said Steve Shurtleff, the New Hampshire House Democratic leader who backed Biden's unsuccessful 2008 primary campaign. "His brain may be telling him one thing but his heart may be telling him another thing."
Biden is expected to decide within a month and Democrats say he would need to join the field in advance of the first televised debate on Oct. 13. Should he do so, he'll face several major obstacles against a field that includes Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and others.
He has not been to Iowa or New Hampshire, the first two states on the presidential calendar, in months. While a recent poll in Iowa showed Biden in a respectable third place against Clinton and Sanders, both are building large campaign organizations in the leadoff states and raising millions of dollars. Sanders has drawn large, enthusiastic crowds to his rallies around the country, energizing his campaign.
Clinton collected $45 million during the fundraising quarter that ended in June and has lined up more than two-dozen fundraising events in September. She is scheduled to attend three fundraisers in South Florida on Oct. 2.
"It's tough to change that deal for people who have been committed to her for so long," said John Morgan, a Florida attorney who is raising money for Clinton. "We've already had fundraisers, we've already written checks. We've already asked our friends to write checks. I think it would be an uphill climb."
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Seward, Alaska, contributed to this report.
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