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Dem Strategists Say Biden 'Late to the Party' for 2016

The Washington Examiner, AUGUST 8, 2015

Democrats, may have a lot of affection for Vice President Joe Biden but if he enters the 2016 presidential contest now, he'll find himself a day late and a dollar short, party strategists say.

"It's something to talk about in the dog days of August," said Michael Meehan, a former senior aide to Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "But 120 days out from the Iowa caucuses," it would be very hard to pull off he said, assuming that any would-be Biden campaign wouldn't launch until after Labor Day.

"Last year I was more than willing to say that as a sitting vice president who had done a great job, I thought he deserved to run if he wanted to," said QGA Public Affairs' Jim Manley, a former longtime Democratic aide to former Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid and George Mitchell, as well as the-late Sen. Ted Kennedy. But "now it's too late."

Another strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Washington's latest parlor game of Biden speculation isn't so much about Biden definitely jumping into the race as it is about him laying groundwork in case there's an opening.

"They want to be ready in case something happens that would create an opening for him to run," the strategist said. "They want to be prepared," in case front-runner Hillary Clinton is mortally wounded by the email controversy from her time as secretary of state — or some other career-ending scandal, which the strategist stressed he doesn't foresee.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had troubling news for both Clinton and Biden.

Only 30 percent of respondents said that Obama's successor "should take an approach similar to that of Barack Obama." Two-thirds want a "different" approach.

Republicans want to make 2016 about the race for "a third Obama term," Meehan said, which is a dig they can use on Clinton as well as Biden.

More troubling for Clinton, however, is her dropping popularity. Only 37 percent of Americans view her favorably, while 48 percent have a negative perception of her.

Speculation has mounted since Biden's oldest son, Beau, died May 30 and rumors began circulating that he urged his father to challenge Clinton for the nomination. It would be Biden's third try at the Oval Office after unsuccessful bids in 1988 and 2008.

"Clearly it would shake up the race; he would be a formidable candidate," said Jimmy Siegel, a Democratic strategist who did ads for Clinton's 2008 campaign. Some primary voters might think that he contrasts well with her and that she may be vulnerable but "he's starting late." Clinton has already locked up a lot of donors, top Democratic operatives and ground troops in Iowa and New Hampshire, he said.

"He's late to the party," Siegel said.

Unlike Republicans who tend to give nominations to the next person in line, "a sitting vice president doesn't clear the field," for Democrats in the same way, Meehan said. "Last summer maybe" Biden could have, he added.

The Obama administration and Biden himself haven't said much about the speculation.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, when asked about it on Monday, replied: "What the vice president has said publicly is that a possible campaign for the presidency is something that he's considering, and he anticipated that he would make a decision by the end of this summer. And so obviously we're in the first week of August and we're getting closer to the end of the summer, but we're not there yet."

Biden spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff's standard reply is: "As the Biden family continues to go through this difficult time, the vice president is focused on his family and immersed in his work."

On Tuesday, Biden himself deflected answering the question with a joke. "Only if you're my running mate," he quipped to Wall Street Journal reporter Carol Lee.

Pundits are spending almost as much time speculating about what a Biden run would do to the Obama administration as they are musing about what Biden's intentions are.

"I don't think it makes a bit of difference," said the Democratic operative who requested anonymity. Biden would understand that Obama must maintain neutrality given that both Clinton and Biden were part of his cabinet and that he will eventually have to support whomever Democratic primary voters choose.

If Biden can put together an apparatus, rally ground troops and most of all, raise enough money to be competitive, he would still "have to beat [Clinton] in one of the races in January" to have a shot at the nomination, Meehan said.

The Clinton campaign is being careful to respect Biden's service to the country while also sending him a signal to back off, several Democratic strategists said, pointing to recent remarks by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

"It would be very hard at this late stage, with Secretary Clinton having preempted donors and staff," Rendell told Politico on Tuesday. "However having said that, if there's anyone who could pull it off, it's a sitting vice president."

Another Democratic operative close to Biden's inner circle said to look at comments from Biden's sister for the answer to the "will he or won't he run" question.

"I have not had a single conversation with him about it," Valerie Biden Owens told Delaware's News Journal on Monday. She has been Biden's political adviser for decades. "He'll decide when he decides," she added.

Read full article: The Washington Examiner, AUGUST 8, 2015