Sitting vice presidents are usually seen as political heirs to the White House. But not this year.
With Hillary Clinton surging to the front of the Democratic field and the sudden rise of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden has largely been an afterthought.
“The fact that he’s not in the mix is odd,” said Ralph Begleiter, a professor of political communication at the University of Delaware.
As early as this spring though, Biden still hadn’t ruled out a run and said he’d make a decision by summer.
Then came the death of his son, Beau, in May, from brain cancer. Many thought that meant a Biden presidential bid was all but over.
Still, some Biden allies and a grass-roots group urging the vice president to run are holding out hope, and making noise they hope Biden hears.
The loudest has been “Draft Biden,” a grass-roots group that popped up earlier this year, hoping to lay the groundwork for the vice president in early states — a critical building block he hasn’t done himself.
The group is led by 27-year-old Will Pierce, a former low-level advance staffer for the Obama 2008 campaign. He’s an Army reservist and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who argues it’s Biden who is best able to be the Democrats’ standard bearer.
“Here’s a man who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,” said Pierce. “I look at someone who is a statesman. He’s always someone who puts his country ahead of himself, and that’s what we need right now.”
The group has hired former Obama fundraisers, state directors in Iowa and New Hampshire and has more than 150,000 who signed a petition saying they’re in for “Ridin’ With Biden” — their logo invoking the famous Obama posters of 2008.
On Saturday, the group held a National Day of Action with events in 14 states as a public plea to Biden that the country needs him.
One of the perceived stumbling blocks for Biden was his many verbal stumbles. Despite six years as vice president and decades in the Senate, there’s still the caricature of Biden as a sidekick who regularly sticks his foot in his mouth.
Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman and friend of Biden’s who is urging him to jump in, says that’s a positive to most voters.
“People want someone who’s genuine, who does commit a malapropism from time to time,” said Harpootlian. “What they know is he’s incredibly smart, he’s incredibly genuine, and nobody knows how Washington works better than Joe Biden.”
“Joe Biden has the ability to emote, to connect, to passionately advocate the positions he’s been taking for the past 25 years,” Harpootlian added.
He argues that given Biden’s blue collar background, those genuine moments could give him the upper hand over Clinton with voters.
“I have deep concerns about Hillary Clinton’s ability to win in 2016,” said Harpootlian. “I’m very concerned about her ability to make the case that she is someone that can appeal to independent swing folks.”
But the biggest problem for Biden — he still hasn’t made the moves necessary to run, and the clock is ticking with six months until the Iowa caucuses.
Part of that has been because of the death of his son. But even before that, his family seemed to be all in. A Wall Street Journal report this month said Beau had urged his father to jump into the race just before he died.
And Biden’s political life has been forged by tragedy — a car wreck took the lives of his wife and infant daughter shortly after he was elected in 1972. Biden had to be persuaded to even take the oath of office — which he did by the hospital bedside of Beau and his other son, Hunter, who were injured in the wreck.
But even before then, Biden had made very few moves to indicate he was seriously looking at a run, other than the occasional chatter and some official visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina on behalf of the White House.
Biden has slowly begun to step back into his regular duties. Visiting a California manufacturing plant last week, Biden even joked, “I’m looking for a job.”
The radio silence has Pierce holding out hope for a Biden candidacy, even if Clinton is still atop polls.
“He hasn’t said yes, but at the same time, he hasn’t said no,” Pierce said.
One reason for Biden’s indecision, Begleiter says, is that it’s not advantageous for Biden to say he’s disinterested in running, because that could damage his influence on the world stage.
But if Biden wants to run, he will need to hire staff and raise money — both of which are flowing to other Democrats right now.
“Biden’s been an outstanding vice president, he was a wonderful senator, but it is very late in the process,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. “My guess is, a sober look at the politics, will suggest it’s not a wise move at this point.”