Team Biden: VP's time is now

Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Cornell unveils Biden ice cream Biden fuels 2020 speculation MORE’s close friends and advisers believe the stars are aligning for his likely presidential bid.

Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonGraham: Comey should be held accountable for acting on bad intel Hillary Clinton condemns 'racist abuse' in Portland attack Clinton returns to election night convention hall to talk about her new book MORE’s email controversy and her dip in recent polls have presented the vice president with a big opening, his confidants say. People who have known Biden for decades say the mood of the American electorate is for “authentic” and “genuine” candidates, a not-so-subtle critique of Clinton.

“This is the time Joe fits,” said Lowell Junkins, the 1986 Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Iowa who has been a longtime Biden backer.

He noted the success of plain-spoken White House contenders such as Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump campaign likely didn’t save documents: report Trump: UK prime minister 'very angry' over Manchester leaks Merkel after G7 says Germany cannot ‘completely depend’ on US MORE, Ben Carson and Bernie SandersBernie SandersFunding confusion complicates Meals on Wheels budget fight The Hill's 12:30 Report Five takeaways from the Montana special election MORE: “Voters are sick of facades. [Biden] can honestly say, ‘I know where you come from.’ ”

Mary Carey Foley, a Portsmouth, N.H., native who has known Biden for nearly 30 years, said the vice president’s off-the-cuff personality contrasts sharply with Clinton’s: “You can’t teach someone to be spontaneous.”

But unlike some of the so-called outsider candidates, Biden knows his way around Washington, D.C., having served 36 years in the Senate and another seven in the White House.

Jared Bernstein, the vice president’s former chief economist, said a potential Biden campaign will prosper if voters are looking for authenticity. If they’re looking for an anti-establishment candidate, it won’t.


What about the gaffes? 

Junkins thinks voters are more willing to overlook “misspeaks” now than in Biden’s prior presidential bids in 1988 and 2008. Voters now want someone who will speak from the heart, he said, even if they make a mistake.

Biden, who will turn 73 in November, appears to be inching closer to launching a presidential bid, though he has pointed out that he and his family are mourning the death of his son Beau Biden, and he’s unsure whether he will be able to commit to a third run for the White House. 

Biden’s friends think he will run, though they also say he is quite somber about Beau’s passing. His Catholic faith, they say, will help him heal.

In a presidential primary debate in 2007, Biden described how he has dealt with tragedy in his life: “My mom has an expression. She says that ‘God sends no cross you’re unable to bear’ ... All the prayer in the world will not stop a hurricane. But prayer will give you the courage to be able to respond to the devastation.”

Should he get in, Biden would be an underdog to Clinton. But everyone — including the political media — loves an underdog. Biden’s relationship with the press has been much friendlier than Clinton’s, and he would give reporters what they crave: access. That’s a double-edged sword, because the press would be looking for Biden gaffes and the coverage usually turns negative the moment a candidate declares.

“The political press is like piranhas that entice you in the water,” Junkins said.


Pros and cons of a Biden run

Biden has close ties with organized labor, a key constituency for the Democratic Party. 

Samuel Lathem, who is president of the Delaware AFL-CIO, said, “In the labor movement, we call him grandfather. He is a great listener, protective and can also be stern.”

Lathem said that most labor unions, in a nod to Biden, have refrained from endorsing a 2016 candidate. 

Democratic insiders, including Lathem, point out that Biden didn’t play a leading role in the White House’s push for fast-track trade authority, which was strongly opposed by unions. Biden notably didn’t attend the bill-signing ceremony in late June.

Unlike Clinton, Biden is not seen as a polarizing figure and has many strong relationships with Republicans on Capitol Hill, backers of the vice president say. Indeed, Obama has sent Biden in to strike thorny fiscal deals with the GOP, including with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump got harsher GOP reception than Bush on budget Franken explains why he made an exception to diss Cruz in his book The Memo: Trump returns to challenges at home MORE (R-Ky.).

Debates are extremely important in presidential politics, and Biden received high marks when he faced off in the vice presidential debates against Sarah Palin in 2008 and Rep. Paul RyanPaul Ryan8th graders refuse to take photo with Paul Ryan Dems plot recess offensive on ObamaCare President Trump needs to make some huuuge changes, and soon MORE (R-Wis.) four years later. 

“Joe is fast on his feet and quick with the comebacks,” Lathem said. Still, his debate performances didn’t do much for his disastrous 1988 and 2008 runs. During the latter campaign, Biden’s launch was marred by his gaffe calling then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama visits Prince Harry at Kensington Palace White House to share info on ethics waivers White House considering vetting Trump’s tweets: report MORE (D-Ill.) “articulate” and “clean.”

Biden’s poll numbers have gotten a bump over the last month or so, and he fares well in hypothetical matchups against Republicans in the general election.

Yet Clinton has built an impressive political operation, recruiting some of the smartest Democratic political operatives. If Biden were to mount a campaign, he would be far behind in fundraising and organization. Meanwhile, the former first lady’s campaign has appeared to shake off some rust over the last several weeks. She has been less defensive about her use of a private email  server as secretary of State, clearly stated her opposition to the Keystone pipeline and granted national press interviews. 

And for all the headlines about the surging Sanders, Clinton is still the front-runner — by far.

In many ways, Biden needs a perfect storm to beat Clinton. Sanders would need to win either Iowa or New Hampshire, and Biden would need to defeat her in South Carolina, a state where the vice president has many ties. Even if this scenario unfolds, Clinton has built what has been called a “firewall” in other southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. 

Junkins said Biden should “forget about the front end of this thing” and focus on South Carolina and Nevada. He acknowledged that Clinton’s “infrastructure” is very strong while adding that in prior presidential races, “We’ve seen infrastructures melt pretty fast.”

Biden would court the African-American vote and would likely tout his work on the Voting Rights Act. But his leading role in passing the crime bill in 1994 could be used against him.

Former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonLewandowski: 'I would clearly look at' White House job Washington needs high-level science and technology expertise – now! House lawmakers pitch ban on North Korean tourism MORE, who signed that bill into law, said this summer that the measure made the criminal justice system worse. At the annual meeting of the NAACP in Philadelphia, the former president said, “We had a lot of  people who were locked up, who were minor actors, for way too long.”

Biden’s foreign policy record would also attract scrutiny, most notably his opposition to the Persian Gulf War, his support for the Iraq War and how he advised Obama against the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

Should Biden get in, some Democrats think the debates would be far more civil than the GOP face-offs. Others note that Clinton and Biden have long yearned to be president and politics is a blood sport.

“I imagine it will get nasty,” Foley said.

The Power Game is a new column written by The Hill’s top two editors. It will run regularly in print and on