Hillary who? Joe Biden says he still dreams of becoming president.

Everyone knows Hillary Clinton would be the presumptive Democratic front-runner for president in 2016. But Joe Biden, in a new interview, doesn't sound like he's ready to concede.

Cliff Owen/AP/File
Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen here in Washington earlier this year, could be rivals during the next Democratic presidential primary season.

Lost amid the endless banter about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s White House intentions is the still real possibility that Vice President Joe Biden will toss his Phillies cap into the ring.

Mr. Biden, a two-time White House candidate, has not shied away from speculation that he’ll run. After serving in the Senate for more than three decades and now with a second term as President Obama’s No. 2 under his belt, he – like Ms. Clinton – has paid some dues. Still, the former secretary of State is the hot topic – and many in the chattering class hold the assumption that if she moves forward (as she seems to be), he’ll politely back off.

The thinking goes something like this: The Clintons have the machine, the power, the influence. And she’s earned it, personally, professionally. There’s still that glass ceiling just so many cracks from being smashed clear though, and it’s her chance, finally, to make history. Meanwhile, Biden is just Biden, always a few words from misstatement, the back-slapping, aviator-clad, behind-the-scenes workhorse isn’t really primed, even after all these years, to hold the top job.

But not so fast.

"I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America," Biden, 70, says in a GQ profile making the rounds Thursday. "But it doesn't mean I won't run."

No deference in those words. He tells GQ he’ll make his own calculation.

"The judgment I'll make is, first of all, am I still as full of as much energy as I have now – do I feel this?" he said. "Number two, do I think I'm the best person in the position to move the ball? And, you know, we'll see where the hell I am.

"And by the way, if you come in the office, I have two portraits hanging – one of Jefferson, one of Adams. Both vice presidents who became presidents." He told the magazine that he likes to look at their satisfied expressions. "I joke to myself, I wonder what their portraits looked like when they were vice presidents."

This does not sound like a man eager to step aside for a potentially history-making Clinton candidacy. Oh, how the Democratic establishment must vacillate between glee at the prospect of an easy route to the nomination for Clinton (especially with the GOP still in a post-2012 state of disunity and lacking real leadership) and terror at the thought of a Clinton/Biden faceoff, which is bound to draw into the contest more and younger hopefuls – namely New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, among other prospects. It would be a cluster – not uncommon, of course, for an open primary season, but unnecessary given the powerhouse potential in Clinton.

Easy would be nice for those Democrats still be smarting from the protracted 2008 nomination fight between Mr. Obama and Clinton. Another battle would be a bummer for the party when the Democrats are – assuming the economy doesn’t totally tank – nicely positioned to run strong in 2016.

Biden has held a dynamic portfolio as vice president, bucking the historical knock on the job that it’s the worst in Washington. With Obama’s blessing, he has handled fiscal issues (including the Economic Recovery Act), had a major role in foreign policy (the Iraq handover, in particular), and managed – though unsuccessfully – the White House’s push for more expansive background checks for gun purchases.

And Biden hasn’t been afraid to say what he believes independent of where the White House might be positioned – remember that he got out front of Obama on the gay marriage issue, emphatically weighing in with his support.

“What this is all about is a simple proposition – who do you love?” he said on NBC’s "Meet the Press." “Who do you love, and will you be loyal to the person you love?”

If Clinton opts against a presidential campaign, surely Biden becomes the default front-runner. Except no matter the shape of the contest, one in, one out, or both vying, they each risk looking more like the past than the future. Already, the Republicans have toyed with a narrative about Clinton that emphasizes her age; the same could be said for Biden.

Both Democrats have long records to defend, too. And in Biden’s case, his gaffes, including that old plagiarism charge, which sank his 1988 campaign, could come back to haunt him. He has also certainly, as everyone knows, been a favorite of the late-night comedians.

But among the establishment in Washington – and this is one key reason why Obama selected Biden as his running mate – the vice president has bipartisan street cred and long and intimate relationships to mine while governing. In a polarized capital city and with national opinion of Congress at historic lows, that experience – a throwback to an earlier time – is a worthwhile and sellable credential.

"Joe Biden doesn't have a mean bone in his body," says Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, in the GQ piece. "He's unique from the day he was elected before he was 30 years old. He's unique in that he's had some role in every major national-security crisis that his nation has faced in the last thirty-five years. I don't know anyone like him in the U.S. Senate. Look at the number of times he's been able to conclude agreements. I would say he's been the most impactful vice president that I've known – certainly in modern times."

And that includes Biden’s predecessor, Dick Cheney, who hails from Senator McCain’s own party and is widely viewed to have been deeply influential, domineering even, when President George W. Bush held office.

Biden reminds us in the GQ piece that, as we watch the Clinton faithful establish an organizational apparatus fit for a candidate, he isn’t ready yet to fold his tent. In fact, the profile, which includes a whirlwind tour of Biden’s childhood haunts in Delaware, is a long romp through lovable Biden turf. He’s just a regular guy! And he’s smart, not a cartoon, he seems to plead, over cheesesteaks.

The piece dubs him “the most misunderstood man in Washington.”

Understand this, though. When Biden addressed the Iowa Inauguration Ball in January, he misspoke in typical fashion. What he said drew laughter – but applause, too – from Democrats from this first-in-the-nation caucus state.

"I'm proud to be president of the United States," he said before correcting himself.

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