Anticipation builds for Biden

A final decision from Vice President Biden on a White House bid may be only days away, but the big question of how he would outmaneuver Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonKaine: GOP will keep House majority Clinton: Benghazi security was ‘not my ball to carry’ CNN suspends Donna Brazile as she takes DNC role MORE remains unanswered.

Biden will talk with his family this weekend to discuss a possible run, according to CNN. The clock is also ticking down to the first Democratic debate of this cycle, set for Tuesday in Las Vegas. While most people do not expect Biden to participate in that debate, some suggest he could maximize publicity for himself by scheduling an announcement around it, perhaps entering the race immediately afterward.

Biden backers assert that Clinton is a seriously flawed candidate, especially in light of the email furor that has sapped her popularity.

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“The question is what happens to Hillary over the coming months — if there are more and more emails disclosed,” said Jim Kreindler, a New York lawyer who has been a big Biden donor in the past and hopes he runs in 2016. “You know it’s a problem, and it’s not a single mistake someone made a couple years ago. It’s an ongoing issue.”

But other, non-aligned Democrats are deeply ambivalent as to whether Clinton’s vulnerabilities are severe enough to give Biden a real shot at wresting the nomination away from her.

Joe Trippi, the strategist who ran former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Clinton’s strengths are being understated. Biden could have a lower ceiling than his supporters like to think, Trippi warned.

“It’s not as if she’s imploding,” he said of Clinton. “And it’s starting to feel like what the media are doing is saying, ‘We’re going to tell you that you look great and you’re hot and you have Joe-mentum — right up until the point we suck you into the race.’ Then, all of a sudden the stories are going to be a lot more difficult.”

Referring to the challenges facing Biden, Trippi added, “I think this is a lot higher of a mountain than the media coverage is suggesting.”

Another Democratic strategist speaking on background suggested that Biden is a conundrum as a campaigner — an old-school politician who relishes the glad-handing and back-slapping of the trail but who has had two previous presidential bids, in 1988 and 2008, come undone. 

Biden exited the 1988 race after being accused of plagiarizing a speech from the leader of the British Labour Party at the time, Neil Kinnock. His 2008 bid got off to a stumbling start when he referred to then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaA legacy on the line Senate should fix NATO's Montenegro problem Clinton to call on Black Lives Matter at Dem convention MORE (D-Ill.) as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Joe BidenJoe BidenEmphasis on diversity in Democratic convention lineup Biden to end long career by boosting his rival Why Kaine is the right choice for Clinton MORE is a fantastic retail politician who has run terrible campaigns. That’s the brutal reality,” the strategist said, before adding, “but it’s not as if Hillary is hitting on all cylinders either.”

Biden boosters insist he has the skills to outflank Clinton — and that there is enough discontent about the front-runner within Democratic ranks to give Biden the room, and the money, to run.

Jon Cooper, a Long Island, N.Y., businessman, serves as the national finance chair of Draft Biden, the independent group seeking to encourage Biden to join the 2016 field. Cooper told The Hill that he knew of at least six major Clinton fundraisers — or “bundlers,” in campaign parlance — who would switch to the vice president’s camp “as soon as he enters the race.”

Cooper used a single metaphor to describe both the unease with Clinton and the pro-Biden money he suggested could soon gush forth.

“We are seeing the first cracks in the dam,” he said. “Water is beginning to flow out of the dam. The minute he announces, the dam is going to burst open. There is going to be a flood of support for Vice President Biden.”

Yet even while exuding such confidence in Biden’s prospects, Cooper, just like everyone else, insisted that he had no knowledge of whether the vice president would take the plunge.

Almost everyone agrees that a decision, one way or another, has to come soon. Kreindler said he had not spoken directly to Biden about a run but, if he goes for it, “he has to start doing the work and getting in the race shortly.”

The Democratic strategist who was critical of Biden’s previous campaigns suggested he would be well-advised to give the first debate a wide berth, especially because there would be other opportunities to seize the spotlight. 

“It’s unrealistic to expect him to get into the first debate,” the strategist said. “But there is no reason that the debate is going to be the one defining moment in the race. The second debate could be defining, so could the [Jefferson-Jackson] dinner in Iowa. There are always these significant moments where you can really turn the momentum for you or against you.”

Draft Biden intensified its efforts Wednesday with a new video featuring footage of Biden with his children and others. The spot, which alluded to the personal tragedies Biden has suffered, was widely praised on social media for its emotional power, although dissenters included former Obama adviser David Axelrod, who tweeted his view that the ad was “tasteless.”

Such mini-controversies will fade as soon as Biden himself decides what to do. And no one is predicting the answer with any confidence.

“I really believe he hasn’t made up his mind,” said Trippi.