Joe Biden's big decision: make a 3rd attempt for president?

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden is reportedly spending part of his vacation this week pondering whether he will run for the Democratic nomination. He's tried twice before and now the question is whether a dying wish from his son Beau, who died in May from cancer, will prompt a third attempt.

U.S. vice-president's son Beau, who died in May, reportedly asked him to go after Democratic nomination

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Washington on July 16. He is currently on vacation and reportedly pondering whether to run for the Democratic nomination. (Molly Riley/Associated Press)

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden is on summer vacation this week but he has some work to do — he has a big decision to make. It's believed Biden is spending part of his time off pondering whether he should run for the Democratic nomination for president.

He's reportedly consulting with trusted friends and strategists and he's expected to announce a decision next month.

Biden's name has long been on the list of possible contenders, but speculation ramped up in recent weeks after a New York Times column by Maureen Dowd. Biden, suffering yet another family tragedy, lost his eldest son Beau to brain cancer in May. A lawyer and politician, Beau was 46 years old when he died. Decades earlier, just weeks after he was elected to the U.S. Senate for Delaware, Biden's first wife and their baby daughter were killed in a car accident.

Dowd reported that when Beau was on his deathbed he tried to make his father promise that he would run. Biden has made attempts to be president twice before, and whether his beloved son's dying wish will push him to try a third time is a question dominating political circles in the U.S. this summer.

Biden, in an interview in 2009, said he had no intention of running in 2016 and that being vice-president would be a "worthy capstone" in his career. But that was then, this is now, and both his personal and political environments have shifted.

There is the family pressure, according to Dowd's reporting, and there is growing pressure from within the Democratic Party. Some members want an alternative to Hillary Clinton, so the nomination isn't a coronation. There are also Democrats who just don't like Clinton and others who are concerned about her baggage, including the ongoing scandal around her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Vice-President Joe Biden during funeral services for Biden's son, Beau, on June 6. (Yuri Gripas/Associated Press)

The desire for Biden to be that alternative is so strong that supporters formed an organization, Draft Biden. They hope to propel Biden to join the competition. They have been working in the key early primary states of Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, rallying supporters and signing up volunteers.

Time to mount campaign?

Whether Biden could mount a campaign, with the massive networks and fundraising that are required to win, could be a factor in his decision. Clinton, the frontrunner, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who is rising in the polls behind her, have had months on the campaign trail already. They've scooped up money, organizers and supporters in massive numbers.

Some observers say it may be too late for Biden, but it certainly wouldn't be impossible. Biden is popular and well-respected within the party and he's an experienced campaigner.

"There are plenty of people in the party who would want to work for him or help," Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic campaign strategist, said in an interview. "There are people out there who are putting his campaign together whether he likes it or not, in the hopes that he decides to go and they say they're ready."

If he does jump in, Trippi said it would be huge news but wouldn't necessarily prompt the other candidates to change course. Biden's entry though, would have the potential of splitting the establishment vote with Clinton, and Sanders might see a benefit from that. It could become more of a three-way race.

A faltering Clinton campaign might end up being the reason Biden joins the race. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote that some Democrats believe a Biden candidacy would only happen if her campaign collapses.

"Biden is a default position if Hillary implodes," Cillizza says he was told by a senior party operative.

If that is the reason Biden runs, he has to be careful with his timing, said Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, on MSNBC's Morning Joe program.

Running could be risky for reputation

"If he is going to go in he's got to be welcomed as the saviour, not seen as the person who, for example, gets in the way of the woman who has the chance to be the first woman president," he said. "It almost has to be reluctant."

Trippi agreed, saying everyone knows Biden wants to be president, he could just be waiting for an opening and a lagging Clinton campaign could be it.
U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, left, met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on July 5 in Vancouver, where he was cheering on the U.S. team in the Women's World Cup soccer final. (Don MacKinnon/Canadian Press)

"I think Joe reluctantly would cave to the pressure. I mean reluctantly tongue and cheek," he said.

One thing that could hold him back, however, is the fear of embarrassment, Trippi said. If he turns down the chance, Biden could go out on top, as a well-liked, well-respected vice-president, albeit one who has made a few gaffes over the years.

If he goes for it, and can't get past single digits in the polls and beat Clinton, it will be even more embarrassing than his first two losses given that he's spent the last six years as second-in-command.

"He doesn't want to risk that," Trippi said.

John Daniello, chair of the Delaware Democratic Party, has known the Bidens for decades and said in an interview that the vice-president has many qualities that make him an appealing candidate.

"He's going to speak his mind, those are the kinds of things I think the public is looking for," he said, adding, "I don't think there's anybody that's running that has the wealth of knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs that Joe has."

Daniello pointed out that Biden is fully committed to the job he already has at the White House, calling him an "active vice-president."

He also thinks the Biden family is still focused on grieving Beau and making a decision about running for president isn't a top priority. Daniello didn't want to speculate on what Biden will eventually decide.

"When he decides, he'll tell us," he said.


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