There is a lot of talk in political circles about a third presidential campaign for Vice President Joe Biden, but it is coming from outside his office for now. Many who are fond of the veteran Democrat have openly discussed what he would bring to the party’s race that is dominated by front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. A group unaffiliated with the vice president called Draft Biden 2016 announced in the last week that a pair of top fundraisers from President Obama’s 2012 campaign would join the independent effort to build grass-roots support for the idea of a Biden run.
The vice president has seemed to enjoy stoking public speculation about his future, but of late he has been focused on his family in the wake of the death in late May of his beloved oldest son, Beau. A decision on whether to run could come in the next several months, however. A look at the factors that could lead him to decide to get in, or stay on the sidelines:
Why Biden will run for president
- Running on President Obama’s record isn’t the handicap it might once have been: Obama has had a recent run of accomplishments that would certainly help whichever Democrat is running in 2016, but particularly Biden, who would likely run as an extension of – and a major force behind – his policies. “Whoever is running should … talk about in 2016 what we’ve done,” Biden recently said at a liberal think tank gala. “Some say this amounts to a third term for the President Obama. I call it sticking with what works.”
- He’s run before: The only question is whether Biden will run for president, not whether he wants to be president. Democratic strategist James Carville once colorfully said that running for president is like having sex: “No one did it once and forgot about it.” Biden has run twice and won’t be intimidated by the idea of a third run, even in a more challenging media and political environment. In the early months of 2015, he conspicuously traveled to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – the first three states in the nomination battle. The more Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders demonstrates Democratic openness to an alternative to Clinton, the more Biden could see a path to the nomination.
- He thinks he’s the most qualified candidate: In a 2014 interview on “The View,” Biden said the only reason to run for president would be if he believed he was the best-positioned to do what the country needs. Clinton’s plans would not affect his own, he stressed, while also saying his experience in foreign policy “uniquely positions me to follow through on the agenda Barack and I have.” It’s hard to see Biden looking out at the current field and thinking anyone’s resume compares to his six-plus terms as a senator and two terms as vice president.
- His family wants him to: Biden’s late son Beau had expressed to his father before his death that he wanted to see him run one more time, as does Biden’s other son, Hunter, the Wall Street Journal reported. Biden’s family has always been inextricably linked to his public service and political career, and those opinions would certainly carry weight. Beau Biden himself could likely have been elected governor of Delaware in 2016 and many forecast higher office for him. With Beau’s death, Biden may feel he owes it to him to try again himself.
Why Biden won’t run
- Going out on top: The political ambition that’s always driven the vice president may well be what leads him to believe he’s already run his last campaign. He’s likely not intimidated by the prospect of running against Clinton, who is a heavy front-runner and just set a party record for fund-raising. But that doesn’t mean he’s willing to risk his political capital or his legacy should he struggle in the primaries.
- Unfinished business: The relationship between Obama and Biden might be as strong as it’s ever been, as was evident from the president’s eulogy at Beau Biden’s funeral. And his standing in the administration is secure. “The reason why we never have any conflict within the West Wing is because 80% of the people he has worked for me before,” Biden quipped at a luncheon last week. Biden knows a campaign would force him to give up the key role he serves in the White House. Even in the administration’s final year, Biden may calculate that the risk isn’t worth it.
- A harsher spotlight: During the campaign and in the White House, officials often sought to turn some of the vice president’s slip-ups and off-script moments into positives, casting them as endearing examples of his authenticity. But what might have been laughed off for a vice president could be disqualifying to some voters in a potential commander-in-chief. And some close to the vice president worry that with ever-more sophisticated opposition tracking and a more fragmented media environment, Biden may struggle to keep the focus on his serious message.
- His family needs him: The demands of even just a five-month campaign through the early primary states would keep the vice president away from home at a time when his young grandchildren are still dealing with the loss of their father. Biden has kept them close, taking them last week to the Women’s World Cup and the week before on a weekend trip to South Carolina. And even his biggest supporters recognize that it’s been hard for him to even consider how a campaign might disrupt that. “I have not talked to him and don’t foresee that I will talk to him until he’s ready to talk,” said Dick Harpootlian, former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “I don’t think he’s ready to talk politics.”