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Eye On Candidates
June 29, 2015

Biden – Will He or Won’t He?

While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has garnered most of the attention in the Democratic nomination contest and with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders currently positioned as her leading rival, the biggest name out there that hasn't yet made his intentions clear is Vice President Joe Biden. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on speculation he may be getting ready to test the waters, at the very least:

Will He Run? Biden Speculation Mounts

When deciding whether to run for office, Vice President Joe Biden has made it a practice to seek his family’s counsel. That advice has included at least two members of his immediate family—his sons—urging him to run for president in 2016, Biden friends and advisers say.

Before his death last month, elder son Beau Biden encouraged his father to get into the race, people familiar with the matter said. And Hunter Biden told a friend in recent weeks he, too, would like to see the vice president wage one more campaign for the White House.

The Biden family’s wishes add an intriguing wrinkle to a Democratic presidential race that has unfolded in unpredictable ways. But a White House official said speculation about the vice president’s political future was premature during this tough time for the family...

According to the article, Biden discussed with former South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian the possibility of a presidential run. A decision by Biden, or at least an announcement, is not expected until August. Some supporters of the Vice President aren't content to wait, and are already putting together a nascent campaign organization that could be waiting for him:

Amid speculation about Mr. Biden’s plans, some supporters are trying to create a campaign-in-waiting. An independent group called the Draft Biden committee is working to nudge Mr. Biden into the 2016 fray. It has been hiring staff in Iowa and New Hampshire and launching grass roots organizing efforts.

Like Mr. Biden, the draft committee is a good-humored group that is serious about politics. William Pierce, executive director of Draft Biden, said he and his colleagues often ask themselves “W.W.B.D.” (What would Biden do?) A life-size cutout of the vice president—dubbed “Cardboard Joe”—is ever-present at the group’s events and has proved to be a draw in lieu of an actual candidate. Supporters can buy “I’m ridin’ with Biden” merchandise to back the cause.

Mr. Biden hasn’t signed off on the effort. But, Mr. Pierce is quick to note, the vice president’s allies haven’t discouraged it, either...

Luke Brinker in Salon has an interesting piece suggesting that Biden's absence from the race currently makes Sanders look stronger as a rival to Clinton. His theory is that Biden supporters look more like Clinton supporters, meaning if he were to announce he wasn't running, they would mostly flow to her:

...there remains a large chunk of Democratic voters who tell pollsters they’re either undecided or supporting other candidates; according to Real Clear Politics’s polling database, Clinton averages 62 percent support among Democratic primary voters nationally, suggesting that nearly four in 10 Democrats aren’t ready for Hillary. Of those voters, about 10 to 15 percent tell pollsters that Biden is their top choice for the Democratic nod. With Biden out, his base of supporters will drift toward other Clinton challengers, right?

Not so fast. Dive deeper into the data, and it quickly becomes apparent that Biden’s backers aren’t anybody-but-Hillary voters who will naturally flock to Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, or Lincoln Chafee once Biden steps aside. But instead, they’re largely old-school Democrats — primarily a mix of white working-class voters with an affinity for the everyman Biden, and African Americans loyal to President Obama’s top lieutenant...

Sanders begins his bid, then, as the proverbial “wine rack” candidate, beloved by the well-off liberal denizens of Burlington, Park Slope, and Boulder, while Clinton and Biden are classic “beer rack” contenders — dominating among less-educated voters and racial and ethnic minorities. With Biden out of the race, Clinton claims many erstwhile supporters of the vice president, extending her already-healthy lead over Sanders. Take the national surveys: With Biden in the mix, most recent polls have put Clinton about 40 to 45 points ahead, with Sanders and Biden roughly tied for second place. Polls that don’t include Biden, by contrast, show Clinton leading Sanders by about 60 percentage points; NBC News and the Wall Street Journal this week found Clinton at 75 percent and Sanders at 15 percent, while a Public Policy Polling survey earlier this month put Clinton at 65 percent to Sanders’s nine percent. Even in New Hampshire, the epicenter of Sanders’s strength, Biden’s absence hurts him. Those two polls showing Sanders almost within single digits of Clinton both included Biden; the latest, from Bloomberg and St. Anselm College, does not, and it finds Clinton further ahead, with 56 percent to Sanders’s 24 percent...

With an announcement one way or another expected in early August, Biden's decision is likely to have a major impact on the Democratic nomination process. If Brinker is correct, a "no" decision by Biden might actually take both of Clinton's main rivals off the stage.