Biden’s last chance for presidential run?

 

DOVER — President Joe Biden?

Political observers have had a field day with that very question over the past week, since New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said Beau Biden had, on his deathbed, encouraged the vice president to run. The Wall Street Journal previously had reported something similar.

Beau Biden, of course, was Joe Biden’s eldest son, who served two terms as Delaware’s attorney general before dying of brain cancer on May 30.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden made an appearance at the 2012 Return Day in Sussex County. If he decides to run for president in 2016, it will be his third attempt. (Delaware State News file)

Vice President Joseph R. Biden made an appearance at the 2012 Return Day in Sussex County. If he decides to run for president in 2016, it will be his third attempt. (Delaware State News file)

On Aug. 2, the day after Ms. Dowd’s column was published, news broke that a former aide to Beau Biden was joining a group trying to encourage the vice president to campaign for the presidency.

Josh Alcorn, now with the Draft Biden PAC, worked as a top aide to Beau Biden, helping to run his 2016 gubernatorial campaign before it ended due to Beau Biden’s death.

Those two factors have led to a mass of articles, columns and segments on exactly what Joe Biden, who was elected by Delaware to the U.S. Senate seven times before winning two terms as the vice president, will do. Will the vice president challenge Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former U.S. senator and secretary of state, or will he be content to not pursue the seat he’s campaigned for twice before?

Few appear to know, including Vice President Biden’s inner circle, which mostly has been silent. But many have speculated as to what he will do and how his decision will impact the 2016 presidential race.

According to The New York Times, Vice President Biden briefly considered resigning to care for his ailing son. The paper reported he likely will make a decision within a month.

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for the vice president, consistently has shot down questions about a possible campaign.

“As the Biden family continues to go through this difficult time, the vice president is focused on his family and immersed in his work,” she said. “In recent weeks, the vice president has worked on the nuclear deal with Iran, traveled across the country to highlight the administration’s economic priorities and more.”

Biden and the First State

In Delaware, where Vice President Biden remains a favorite son, political observers and friends of the vice president only can speculate as to what he will do.

Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said he has spoken to Mr. Biden but not about a presidential run and does not know what the vice president will do.

As for the deathbed confessional reported by Ms. Dowd, “it doesn’t surprise me at all that Beau would have said something like that.”

Rep. Schwartzkopf, who was close with Beau Biden, emphasized the decision is a personal one and one the vice president should not — and will not — undertake without total conviction and the full support of his family.

A spokeswoman for Vice President Joe Biden would not confirm whether he will announce a run for the presidency, saying he remains focused on his family as it continues to mourn the loss of his son Beau who died May 30.  (AP file/Patrick Semansky)

A spokeswoman for Vice President Joe Biden would not confirm whether he will announce a run for the presidency, saying he remains focused on his family as it continues to mourn the loss of his son Beau who died May 30. (AP file/Patrick Semansky)

Many political observers have noted Ms. Clinton’s slipping ratings, due to scrutiny over a variety of issues, including her alleged improper storage of emails and questions about her charisma and her family’s wealth. According to a Huffington Post poll tracker, Ms. Clinton’s favorability has declined steadily for the past five months. A Quinnipiac University poll that covered the end of July found 40 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Ms. Clinton, while 51 percent viewed her in a negative light.

The same survey reported Mr. Biden was seen favorably by 49 percent and unfavorably by 39 percent.

However, even if Ms. Clinton’s ratings continue to fall, the vice president would be facing an uphill battle. A recently released CBS News poll reported 58 percent of respondents likely would vote for Ms. Clinton. Vice President Biden was in third, at 11 percent. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was second, garnering 17 percent.

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley also is running for the Democratic nomination.

According to Sam Hoff, the George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science at Delaware State University, Vice President Biden likely would struggle to find an ideological niche.

Sen. Sanders has gained support from the left, while Ms. Clinton resides more in the middle of the political spectrum, Dr. Hoff said. He believes the vice president sits to the left of Ms. Clinton but not as far as the Vermont senator, meaning Mr. Biden would be hard-pressed to come by a solid base.

Age also could be a factor that discourages Vice President Biden, who would turn 74 less than two weeks after the November 2016 election, from running. If elected, he would be the oldest man ever to win the office. While experience serves as a strong point in his favor, his age could be a negative, Dr. Hoff noted.

The fact the vice president is said to be considering a run is “not a totally unexpected development,” Dr. Hoff said.

“His time for possibly running and becoming president is slipping away obviously for several reasons and this could be his last hurrah,” he said.

Then-Sen. Biden ran for the 1988 Democratic nomination, an effort that ultimately fell short. Despite early positive signs, his campaign was halted by accusations the senator had plagiarized speeches and an academic paper. He dropped out in September 1987 after less than four months of formally campaigning.

He ran again for the 2008 nomination but struggled to gain support and conceded defeat in January of that year.

Vice President Biden has a reputation for being knowledgeable in foreign policy, a fact bolstered by his three separate terms as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

He’s also well-known as someone unafraid to speak his mind — sometimes even inadvertently. The vice president’s off-the-cuff tendencies can both make him relate more to voters and alienate key figures.

“He’s so spontaneous and authentic which are good traits in a sense, but sometimes his mouth goes before his brain, and that certainly can cause problems,” Dr. Hoff said, referring to the vice president as a “walking gaffe machine.”

Preparations

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, a Republican who served in Congress with Mr. Biden for 16 years, said he has not spoken to the vice president about a possible presidential campaign but believes he may be waiting to see if Ms. Clinton continues slipping.

“Joe’s never made a secret of this — his ultimate goal is to become president of the United States,” Mr. Castle said.

Dr. Hoff believes Ms. Dowd was informed of Beau Biden’s deathbed wish by a member of the vice president’s inner circle with a purpose: to put Vice President Biden’s name out there and gauge the level of interest from the public.

According to The Associated Press, Ted Kaufman, who served as an adviser to then-Sen. Biden for many years and filled his seat in the U.S. Senate from 2009 to 2010 after he became vice president, has been given an office near Vice President Biden’s own office.

Several observers noted the proverbial clock is ticking.

The first primary comes Feb. 1, with the Iowa caucus. Candidates who do poorly in the first primaries typically are all but finished, meaning Vice President Biden would have little time to assemble a highly organized team necessary for a presidential campaign.

Fundraising also would need to be ramped up quickly.

Dr. Hoff noted the vice president does not have a reputation as an excellent fundraiser, and Rep. Schwartzkopf believes “Joe’s never been a big-money candidate.”

While a number of politicians and observers are unsure of what Vice President Biden will do, they are prepared to support the longtime Delawarean.

Noting Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, does not know whether the vice president will run, a spokeswoman for the governor said “the vice president’s lifetime of work on behalf of the middle class and his experience working with leaders around the world would make him a formidable candidate.”

Vice President Biden likely would communicate better with Congress than President Barack Obama does, Dr. Hoff said.

Rep. Schwartzkopf said he thinks people know they can trust Vice President Biden, of whom he spoke highly.

“He’s the gentleman of the Senate,” he said.

Even Republicans have praised him. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the “Today” show last week the vice president is more “likable” than Ms. Clinton.

Charlie Copeland, chairman of the Delaware GOP, was not so kind.

He does not believe there’s little difference between Vice President Biden and Ms. Clinton in terms of policies but believes the vice president is more popular.

“I don’t think the country’s been all that well-served by Joe Biden over the last period of years, but he’s a very, very gifted politician and he’s so well-liked,” Mr. Copeland said.

Local support

While the vice president would face a serious battle if he sought the White House for the third time, Delaware, his home for 62 years, likely would be behind him, at least.

A September poll from the University of Delaware reported 64 percent of Delawareans viewed Vice President Biden favorably, more than Ms. Clinton, President Obama or any statewide official.

Draft Biden, the PAC working to encourage the vice president to run, reported having about $16,000 on hand at the end of June.

“Our movement is gaining steam — we’ve signed up 50k new supporters over the last two weeks, and with Josh’s help, we’ll be able to expand our fundraising to show the VP the country is ready for him to enter the race,” Draft Biden Executive Director Will Pierce said in a statement.

Robert Gilligan, a Democrat who served in the Delaware House for 40 years and is now the state party’s national committeeman, has known Mr. Biden since 1970, when the man who would be vice president was running for New Castle County Council.

If he sought the presidency, he could point to his “heck of a record as vice president,” Mr. Gilligan said.

While a Joe Biden campaign would face numerous obstacles, there would be a chance.

“If anybody can do it, he can,” Mr. Gilligan said.

Should he not run, he can retire back in Delaware with his family — or, as Dr. Hoff speculated, be appointed to a cabinet secretary position if Ms. Clinton is victorious in November 2016.

Ralph Begleiter, the director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, believes Vice President Biden should not run.

“Although my personal opinion doesn’t count for anything, I feel the Joe Biden legacy would be much better served if he did not dive into a third attempt to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency,” he said. “A third attempt would subject him, at age 72, to the extremely grueling financial, political and media pressures of contemporary American presidential politics. And if he fails for a third time to win the nomination, his political career would end on that note, instead of the high note of his vice presidency.

“If he serves out his term as vice president, without being dragged down in presidential campaign politics, I think he would be presented with any number of excellent, important and prestigious public service roles to play after he leaves the White House, in Delaware, nationally, and internationally.”

Regardless of what Vice President Biden does, Delaware figures to be behind him, just as it has been for decades.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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