COLUMBIA, S.C. -- He’s sought the presidency twice before, only to fall woefully short. Now, in what many people would consider the autumn of their own lives, Joe Biden is weighing whether he’ll make a third and final run.
His travel, his calendar and interviews with supporters suggest he’s getting in position to seek the 2016 Democratic nomination.
He’s taken pains to court activists in the early primary states. Earlier this month, he wooed Democratic activists in South Carolina. In January, he invited key Democrats from New Hampshire to be his guests alongside family and close friends at the small ceremony where he was sworn in for a second term as vice president. He made the rounds at a pre-inaugural party for Democrats from Iowa. Those states go 1-2-3 in voting for a nominee, and Biden may have jumped the gun with a revealing slip of the tongue at the Iowa party. “I’m proud to be president of the United States,” he said.
And he’s maintaining close ties to key Democratic constituencies, meeting in the last two weeks alone with African-American and Asian-American interest groups.
Friends and advisers insist Biden hasn’t made a decision on whether he’ll run. They say he’s working mainly on helping President Barack Obama, mindful that any Democratic candidate’s fortunes will rise or fall on the Obama administration’s performance.
“He has the experience, the relationships and at the right time obviously he’d make a wonderful president,” said Miami developer Michael Adler, Biden’s 2008 national finance chairman. “Right now, he’s totally focused on being the best vice president that he can be.”
Yet Biden clearly would love to be president, a job he first sought 24 years ago and last sought four years ago. And Democrats close to him know it.
“They’re always looking at the landscape,” said Lou D’Allesandro, a veteran state senator and Democratic operative from New Hampshire who was invited to the vice president’s residence for the private swearing-in. “And I’ve got to assume he’ll be back.”
The vice presidency was long a dead-end job. Lyndon Johnson was shut out by John F. Kennedy. Harry Truman didn’t even know about work on the atomic bomb unto he moved into the top job. John Nance Garner famously said of his number two spot under Franklin D. Roosevelt that the job wasn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit, or some other bodily fluid, depending on the story.
But ever since Jimmy Carter gave Walter Mondale a real portfolio of work, vice presidents have been more partners than forgotten understudies.
The high-octane Biden, with his long personal ties in the Senate, has been a key partner for Obama, who was elected before he finished his first term in the Senate and has had frosty relations with Congress. It was Biden who shepherded the administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package through Congress. It was Biden who earlier this year helped broker a budget deal to avoid pitching the government off a fiscal cliff.
Biden’s highest-profile push came when Obama tapped him to push a package of gun control measures, an effort that ended last month in defeat in the Senate. But that could be an asset in a Democratic primary. Gun control advocates were moved when Biden, who often casts the debate in personal terms, drew on the deaths of his wife and daughter in a 1972 auto crash to mourn the “20 beautiful little babies” killed in Newtown, Conn.