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Biden trip stokes new round of speculation about a presidential bid

U.S. Vice President Biden stands behind reporters as President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban make statements after their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in WashingtonU.S. Vice President Biden stands behind reporters as President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban make statements after their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.Photograph by Jonathan Ernst — Reuters

That sound you hear is the Joe Biden Speculation Machine grinding into overdrive.

As the vice president mulls whether to jump in to the hunt for the Democratic presidential nod, he’s setting off today on a multi-state trip that might otherwise be mistaken for a campaign swing. It isn’t: Biden, by all accounts, is still making up his mind as what had been an early September deadline for deciding keeps receding later into the calendar.

But with the first Democratic debate approaching on Oct. 13, and a series of deadlines to qualify for primary ballots piling up after that, time appears to be running short.

So Biden’s road trip — his first extended public turn after weeks of sustained chatter about a possible bid — is taking on added layers of significance. It kicks off today when Biden travels to South Florida to deliver a speech at Miami Dade College on helping more Americans go to college. Tonight, he headlines a fundraiser for Senate Democrats at a private home in Miami, and tomorrow, he’ll meet with Jewish community leaders in the city to pitch the administration’s nuclear pact with Iran. From there, he’s off to Atlanta to give a talk at a synagogue. On Monday, he’ll turn up in Pittsburgh, along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for “Labor Day festivities.” Later next week, he heads to New York for an interview on Stephen Colbert’s new late-night CBS show, where he’ll have to address his intentions.

 

All of those events proceed from Biden’s official duties. But the tour will also offer him his best chance yet to sound out key Democratic fundraisers and interest group leaders.

Two critical questions remain.

One is whether Biden, in such a compressed timeframe, could surmount the massive operation that Hillary Clinton has already assembled. As NBC notes this morning, Biden hasn’t yet begun to try to match it, either by establishing a fundraising structure or hiring staff. Yet polls show an opening. The wages of Clinton’s summer-long struggle to explain her use of a private email server as Secretary of State now reflect starkly in her popular standing: A new ABC/Washington Post survey shows she is one point away from the lowest popularity marks of her career, which came during her last presidential run back in 2008. Today, only 45 percent of Americans view her favorably, while 53 view her unfavorably. And a Des Moines Register/ Bloomberg Politics poll released over the weekend showed Biden gathering support from 14 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers without even announcing — while Clinton’s support slumped to 37 percent, her lowest numbers there yet, and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders only 7 points behind.

The other question is whether Biden, 72, wants to make the effort. He’s spent the summer grieving over the death of his son Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer in May. Beau before his death had implored his father to run. But now Biden is tending to a grieving family — a responsibility that might preclude the all-consuming investment of energy that a presidential bid would require. On that score, this trip could clarify his thinking.