More and more leaks suggest that Vice President Joe Biden will enter the presidential race.
But he would face a steep uphill climb if he does.
The New Yorker reported Thursday that Biden representatives recently met with national Democratic Party staffers to discuss the rules and procedures that he would need to clear if he entered the race.
“I think it means he’s running,” a source told The New Yorker.
“The deadlines for qualifying on the ballots for key states haven’t passed yet, but are fast approaching.”
Politico further reported that Biden is looking at making a final decision this weekend “or shortly thereafter,” and that people close to him say he’s leaning toward leaping into the fray.
According to CNN, Biden is meeting with his family this weekend to discuss the race and whether they are emotionally ready for the rigors of the campaign trail after the death of his son, Beau, earlier this year.
It’s always been clear that Biden would like to be president. After all, he ran for the position twice, in 1988 and 2008, but flamed out early both times.
Is the third time the charm? Polls suggest that there’s an opening – though it’s closing fast. Biden isn’t scheduled to attend next week’s debate, and the deadlines to appear on early-state primary ballots are near: He would have to file by November 20 to appear on the ballot in New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state.
But it’s also unclear how wide that opening is for Biden – or if the public might stop viewing him as favorably should he enter the partisan arena, especially once the inevitable hits start flying from his opponents and the media.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign limped into the fall after a brutal summer filled with increasing scrutiny over the personal email server she used for her State Department work. The FBI is looking into whether any sensitive information was mishandled in connection to the account.
At the same time, the Democratic primary has seen the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), whose fiery economic populism and tell-it-like-it-is shtick has struck a chord among Democratic voters and contrasted sharply with Clinton’s far more cautious approach to politics and policy.
- REUTERS/Brian Snyder
However, it’d be a mistake to assume Clinton has somehow lost her status as the decisive Democratic front-runner.
Indeed, if Biden were to run he’d likely be heading straight into the buzz saw that is Clinton’s behemoth operation. Clinton has had months to build up her campaign team, which is stocked full of top-tier operatives joined when she was widely expected to face only token primary opposition.
A vast swath of the Democratic establishment is also solidly behind Clinton. Earlier this week, Clinton scored the endorsement of the National Education Association, one of the largest unions in the country.
Even in the US Senate – an institution in which Biden served for 36 years – Clinton already has the endorsement of 33 out of the 46 Democratic senators, according to a tally this week by US News & World Report. Only Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), who holds Biden’s old Senate seat, has reportedly indicated he would back a Biden campaign.
And it’s not just her endorsements and campaign staff. Clinton and Sanders both have had months to raise tens of millions of dollars apiece from wide networks of supporters.
Biden, meanwhile, has never been a prodigious fundraiser. Some top donors have declared that they would support his candidacy, but it’s nevertheless likely that Biden would have a huge financial deficit relative to his top competitors.
- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Even if Clinton can be beaten in the Democratic primary, it’s also not clear if Biden is necessarily the person to do it.
Clinton is running a history-making campaign to be the first female president. Biden, meanwhile, would be yet another older white man in a race that already has the 74-year-old Sanders as the chief competitor to Clinton.
The Clinton brand is particularly strong among minority voting blocs, according to a report this week by The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin.
“But interviews with Democratic strategists and elected officials, as well as polls of Democrats, suggest that it would not be easy for Mr. Biden to poach blacks and Hispanics from Mrs. Clinton, who, along with former President Bill Clinton, remains highly popular with those voters,” Martin wrote.
“To do so, these Democrats say, Mr. Biden would need a measure of help – or simply luck. Mrs. Clinton would have to be seen as politically damaged for minority voters, and especially black and Hispanic women, to switch their loyalties from a potential first female president to a white man.”
And in an electorate fired up by populist outsiders, Biden is hardly the ideal candidate to seize that zeitgeist. He spent decades in Congress building up a relatively moderate profile compared to the progressive politics of 2015.
The “1994 Biden Crime Bill” probably wouldn’t be as popular among Democrats today, for example, and Biden could face resistance from the “Black Lives Matter” movement, whose activists Clinton met with on Friday.
- REUTERS/Jason Reed
Other weaknesses in the Biden record would inevitably emerge should he enter the race. New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, citing a source tied to the Clinton campaign, highlighted several areas where Clinton’s operation could rip into Biden.
“According to the source, the research has turned up material on Biden’s ties to Wall Street; his reluctance to support the raid that killed Osama bin Laden; and his role in the Anita Hill saga as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Sherman wrote.
But Biden also has his strengths. Polls show that if the election were held today, he would be the Democrats’ strongest nominee against the Republican field. He earned widespread kudos among LGBT activists for nudging the White House to support same-sex marriage. And, more than any other candidate, he would represent a continuation of President Barack Obama’s tenure.
Whether that’s enough to sway voters remains – potentially – to be seen. Bloomberg Politics recently conducted focus groups of likely Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and found tepid support for the vice president.
In one group, the moderator asked the voters who wanted Biden in the race. Only one person raised her hand. Some of the participants said Biden was a great support player – but not presidential. And another voter said Biden had simply waited too long to decide on the contest.