Democrats divided over Biden run

House Democrats are torn on the question of whether Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Trail 2016: One large crack in the glass ceiling Biden should have been the clear choice for vice president Biden to end long career by boosting his rival MORE should seek the White House in 2016.

The vice president lost his eldest son, Beau, to brain cancer this year, and the tragedy is clearly feeding concerns that the strains of a demanding campaign would be too heavy to bear.

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But Biden is ruling nothing out, and his recent travels and media appearances –– combined with the struggles facing Democratic frontrunner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDem sales job on Hillary Clinton moves into high gear Bill Clinton glosses over the ‘90s GOP: Clinton is most unpopular Dem nominee ever MORE –– have only fueled speculation that he's ready to enter the contest and grab the baton if Clinton falters.

Some Capitol Hill Democrats are pushing him to do just that. 

"I've encouraged him to get in," Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) said Friday. "We love Joe in Delaware, and I think he would add a lot to the race. He's real; he relates to middle-class values; [and] he’s fought for [them] all his political career."

Carney was quick to acknowledge "the tremendous personal burden" facing Biden and his family in the wake of Beau's death, emphasizing that "whatever he decides to do, I'm with him 100 percent."

But he also said Biden has the drive to make the transition from deep trauma to mounting a winning campaign.

"He's said publicly that he's concerned whether he's got the emotional energy to do it. I think he does," Carney said.

"If he would just go out there and be himself, it'd be refreshing in the primary campaign." 

Even many Clinton backers support the idea of Biden's joining the race, arguing that it would enliven the primary debate to the benefit of the party as a whole.

"I endorsed Hillary, but if Biden wants to jump [in] I think he should because … it makes our campaign more vibrant," said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.). "That's only going to improve our platform."

Other Democratic Clinton supporters, however, are more reluctant to endorse a Biden run, suggesting it might crowd the field and undermine the chances of the former secretary of State. 

"I love Sen. Biden, but I'm already with Hillary Clinton," Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Friday. 

"I think the overwhelming majority of House members have already indicated support for Sen. Clinton," he added. "I think she'll make a great president."

Still others are steering clear of the question, saying the decision is entirely in Biden's hands.

"He is obviously struggling with this, in the most honest and sincere way," Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), former head of the Democratic Caucus, said Friday. "He's beloved in the caucus here, and people will respect whatever decision he makes."

The notion that Biden might enter the race has intensified in recent weeks, as Clinton — the heavy Democratic favorite — has seen her poll numbers fall as the controversy surrounding her use of private emails at the State Department has escalated. 

The email saga has played to the benefit of her leading rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has surged in the polls, overtaking Clinton in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, according to recent surveys.

Many Democrats, while supporting much of Sanders' liberal platform, are nonetheless deeply skeptical about his electability.

"Bernie Sanders is raising some issues that are important," Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, told reporters this week. "But I don't think there's an expectation that's he's going to be president of the United States."

Such sentiments are helping to drive the desire for Biden –– who's seen as a more plausible occupant of the Oval Office –– to throw his hat in the ring. 

"I'm for Hillary," Hoyer emphasized. "[But] I'm also a very close friend of Vice President Biden and have great respect for him, and I think he'd be an excellent president."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has not endorsed a primary candidate, delivered a similar message this week. 

The California Democrat, who in 2007 made history by becoming the nation's first female Speaker, has long-championed the idea of sending a woman to the White House. But she also praised Biden's leadership, saying he'd make "a great president."

"Many women in America have a lot of excitement over the fact that Hillary Clinton could be the first woman president," Pelosi told reporters gathered in her office Wednesday. "And Joe Biden would make a great president as well. We'll see."

Biden, for his part, appears to be genuinely conflicted about the imminent decision.

Appearing Thursday on "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert, Biden sent mixed signals about his intentions. 

At times, he suggested his son's death was siphoning some of the energy he'd need to launch such an ambitious campaign.

“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president and two, they can look at folks out there and say, 'I promise you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy, and my passion,'” Biden said. “And I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there." 

At other times, he hinted he might take the plunge. When supporters in the audience chanted his name, for instance, he responded, “Be careful what you wish for."

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who as a Senate staffer worked closely with Biden through most of the 1980s, suggested the vice president's tight family ties would ultimately keep him out of the 2016 contest. 

"I've known him a long time. And while I think he has an enormous amount of talent yet to be devoted to public service, I know what a family man he is from my own personal experience," Connolly, who is endorsing Clinton, said Friday. "The grievous loss he has suffered –– trying to heal from that, and deal with that grief –– I think has to take precedence over politics." 

Still, Connolly emphasized that only Biden can make the ultimate determination.

"Family with him will always come first, and only he can calculate how far down the road they are in trying to recover from this terrible loss," Connolly said. "Grief is a funny thing, you know. It's not subject to deadlines."