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As Joe Biden ponders race, past same-sex marriage ‘gaffe’ becomes political asset

Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden waves to the crowd after he speaks at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

As Vice President Joe Biden zeros in on a final decision for the 2016 presidential race, one factor pushing him toward another run is the view that the political climate could be more favorable than ever before in his more than four decade-long career.

The vice president’s close-knit circle of advisors sees the yearning in the electorate for a candidate of authenticity and blunt talk, and believes Biden represents that and more, turning what in the past has been seen as a negative into a decided positive.

That view was on display Saturday night as Biden delivered the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign dinner gala. There, his 2012 declaration in a “Meet the Press” interview that he supported same-sex marriage was hailed as an example of political courage. At the time, however, it was largely added to the catalog of supposed Biden gaffes, in part because President Obama had yet to state the same.

“This man is not afraid to speak his mind, and he has never shied away from speaking up for us,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in his introduction.

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Biden has welcomed the support of LGBT community, casting his 2012 comments as part of a longer-term fight in his career for justice that goes back to his campaign against Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination.

But Saturday night Biden said more credit for the nation’s growing embrace of LGBT equality goes to the grass-roots activists. 

“Some of you credited me with taking a political risk and thought I was doing something special. But folks, I was just answering in a straightforward, direct way what I’ve known my whole life,” he said. “The very fact that we finally recognize that love is not a political matter, it’s a basic human right ... is because of all of you.”

The vice president made no mention of the 2016 contest in his remarks, though some in the audience shouted out encouragement for him to join the Democratic primary field.

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But the vice president did with characteristic candor take on some of the Republicans he said would reverse continued progress.

“There are still those shrill voices in the national political arena trying to undo what has finally been done. But they’re not going to succeed,” he said.

“The American people are with you,” Biden insisted.

“There are homophobes still left. Most of them are running for president I think,” Biden joked, to rapturous applause.

Eight years ago, such talk might have added to questions about Biden’s candidacy. Consider a question Biden faced as a candidate in a 2007 primary debate, when NBC’s Brian Williams cited a Los Angeles Times editorial calling Biden a “gaffe machine” prone to “uncontrolled verbosity.”

“Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline that you would need on the world stage?” Williams asked.

Biden answered as succinctly as he could: “Yes,” to laughter and applause.

Biden is expected to sit out of the first Democratic primary debate on Oct. 13. But he’ll remain visible with official events, like one scheduled Thursday in which he will follow Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in delivering a keynote address at an infrastructure conference.

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The first candidate filing deadlines are only weeks away, including for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on Nov. 20. 

Hillary Rodham Clinton also has a committed following in the LGBT community, as was evident in the program before Biden spoke. Each time the former secretary of State appeared on screen the audience erupted in applause.

Clinton made a direct appeal to the same organization earlier Saturday at a breakfast reception. She endorsed the Federal Equality Act, a revised version of the Employee Non Discrimination Act that seeks to expand protections for gay and transgender individuals to include housing, healthcare, public education and even jury selection. She also called for allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military.

“I know you’ve had your share of politicians speaking out, courting your support at election time and then disappearing — as if your lives and your rights are just a political bargaining chip,” she said. “Well, those who know me know that’s not me. I’ve been fighting alongside you and others for equal rights — and I’m just getting warmed up.”

Follow @mikememoli for more news about the 2016 campaign.

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