Biden Says No to 2016 Candidacy

Joe Biden & Barack Obama

Image courtesy of Draft Biden 2016

Biden Says No to 2016 Candidacy

| published October 21, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor


The path toward the presidency for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just got a lot wider, and less complicated.

Vice-President Joe Biden has told disappointed supporters that he will not seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2016. Biden’s announcement came after months of speculation, followed by several weeks of intense discussion and rumors.

Biden, 72, has said for months that he was uncertain that his heart was ready for the long ordeal of campaigning for President; he had also indicated that he was not necessarily emotionally prepared for the rollercoaster of an election after the death of his son Beau earlier this year.

Despite those warnings and qualifiers—or perhaps because of them—potential Biden supporters grew enthusiastic about a Biden candidacy, fanning the flames during the summer months and sending millions of dollars into the coffers of a grassroots organization called Draft Biden 2016. The online PAC had gathered more than a half million signatures, secured crucial endorsements, begun the process of deploying staffers to Iowa and New Hampshire, and even started making advertising purchases on network television.

But in the end, Biden told reporters gathered at the White House that he had simply waited too long, and that a late-start candidacy would face numerous serious obstacles, some perhaps insurmountable. Among those key factors: fundraising, which in Biden’s case would need to have begun months ago if he were to have maintained any hope of becoming competitive in the earliest of the caucus and primary states.

The consensus has been that Biden’s window of opportunity closed several weeks ago. In August and September, Clinton faced some of her toughest months of campaigning amidst an onslaught of problems—a daily barrage of negative news regarding her email accounts, her private server, and the terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya during her tenure as Secretary of State. Clinton also saw some of her worst poll numbers in months, slipping behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and watching as Biden’s poll numbers increase almost in tandem with Clinton’s declines.  Nationally, Clinton's negative numbers rose to dangerous heights.  Some mainstream Democrats were hoping that Biden might step into the breach, and provide a mainstay for likely Democratic voters if Clinton's campaign foundered.  

Many analysts think that the Vice-President’s opportunity was immediately prior to last week’s Democratic debate sponsored by CNN. Clinton has been widely judged to have had the best night of the five candidates present, though Bernie Sanders scored some of the night’s best lines and the most emotional appeal to Democrats. Biden was notably not on that stage in Las Vegas, and many Democratic strategists say that Biden missed the chance to enter the fray at that critical moment.

Clinton has recovered from much of the damage done as a result of her ongoing email scandals and the Benghazi affair, and current polls now show her leading Sanders by a comfortable margin. The Democratic race will likely now shift into a two-candidate battle between Clinton and Sanders. Though Maryland’s Martin O’Malley performed well during the first debate, his poll numbers remain unchanged in single digits. Neither Lincoln Chafee nor James Webb performed particularly well during the debate; Webb announced this week that he is suspending campaigning as a Democrat, and says he will consider running as an independent instead.

With Biden no longer a potential candidate, the path for Clinton just became wider and clearer, and removes from the discussion some alternative to Clinton as the party favorite and the established candidate. The move also seals the gathering momentum—begun last week—that thrusts Clinton back into the position of solid front-runner.

Biden’s long struggle with the decision dates back to early this year, when the rumor first began to surface that he was keeping the door open to a Presidential run in 2016. At that time Clinton was still seen as the de facto front-runner—but just as a certain segment of mainstream Republicans question whether another Bush should seek the Presidency, there has been a component of the Democratic Party which is ill-at-ease with a Hillary Clinton candidacy. Biden’s non-committal, but always-watched inner-struggle sparked a cottage industry of journalists and television reporters watching the Vice-President’s every move and every word for a sign that he was ready to enter the race. At one point in September, Biden’s polling showed him pulling in nearly as much support from Democrats as the other candidates—essentially a three-way tie with Clinton and Sanders.

For many top Democratic Party strategists, Biden’s decision sets in stone the way the race will shape up over the next few months—an essentially two-way struggle between Clinton and Sanders, with Sanders energizing the progressive and most liberal wing of the party, and with Clinton rallying the party’s base.

Biden’s chief enemy over the last four or five weeks, most observers agree, was time. The Iowa caucuses, which take place on February 1 of 2016, now loom large on the road to the presidency, and for Biden there would have been much work to be done in the next days and weeks.

“Unfortunately, I believe we’re out of time,” Biden told reporters at the White House as his wife stood nearby, “the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination. The process doesn’t respect or much care about filing deadlines or debates or primaries and caucuses. But I also know I couldn’t do this if the family isn’t ready.”

In his remarks, as President Obama stood just over Biden’s right shoulder, he urged Democrats to work to maintain Obama’s legacy. Biden tossed a veiled insult toward Clinton, without mentioning her by name, when he suggested that it is counterproductive for Democratic candidates to attempt to distance themselves from Obama’s legislative record. Some observers saw in that remark Biden’s displeasure with Clinton having made turnarounds on issues ranging from the Middle East to foreign trade.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Make or Break for a Biden Candidacy; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 16, 2015.

A Debate Over the Debate: Did Clinton Win?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; October 15, 2015.