Could Joe Biden Get 'Ready For Biden'? | KERA News

Could Joe Biden Get 'Ready For Biden'?

Jul 27, 2015
Originally published on July 28, 2015 1:11 pm

Sitting vice presidents are usually seen as political heirs to the White House. But not this year.

With Hillary Clinton surging to the front of the Democratic field and the sudden rise of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden has largely been an afterthought.

"The fact that he's not in the mix is odd," said Ralph Begleiter, a professor of political communication at the University of Delaware.

As early as this spring though, Biden still hadn't ruled out a run and said he'd make a decision by summer.

Then came the death of his son, Beau, in May, from brain cancer. Many thought that meant a Biden presidential bid was all but over.

Still, some Biden allies and a grass-roots group urging the vice president to run are holding out hope, and making noise they hope Biden hears.

The loudest has been "Draft Biden," a grass-roots group that popped up earlier this year, hoping to lay the groundwork for the vice president in early states — a critical building block he hasn't done himself.

The group is led by 27-year-old Will Pierce, a former low-level advance staffer for the Obama 2008 campaign. He's an Army reservist and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who argues it's Biden who is best able to be the Democrats' standard bearer.

"Here's a man who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee," said Pierce. "I look at someone who is a statesman. He's always someone who puts his country ahead of himself, and that's what we need right now."

The group has hired former Obama fundraisers, state directors in Iowa and New Hampshire and has more than 150,000 who signed a petition saying they're in for "Ridin' With Biden" — their logo invoking the famous Obama posters of 2008.

On Saturday, the group held a National Day of Action with events in 14 states as a public plea to Biden that the country needs him.

One of the perceived stumbling blocks for Biden was his many verbal stumbles. Despite six years as vice president and decades in the Senate, there's still the caricature of Biden as a sidekick who regularly sticks his foot in his mouth.

Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman and friend of Biden's who is urging him to jump in, says that's a positive to most voters.

"People want someone who's genuine, who does commit a malapropism from time to time," said Harpootlian. "What they know is he's incredibly smart, he's incredibly genuine, and nobody knows how Washington works better than Joe Biden."

"Joe Biden has the ability to emote, to connect, to passionately advocate the positions he's been taking for the past 25 years," Harpootlian added.

He argues that given Biden's blue collar background, those genuine moments could give him the upper hand over Clinton with voters.

"I have deep concerns about Hillary Clinton's ability to win in 2016," said Harpootlian. "I'm very concerned about her ability to make the case that she is someone that can appeal to independent swing folks."

But, while Clinton's favorability ratings have taken a hit in some critical swing states, Biden also polls behind most Republicans in places Democrats need to win the White House.

But the biggest problem for Biden — he still hasn't made the moves necessary to run, and the clock is ticking with six months until the Iowa caucuses.

Part of that has been because of the death of his son. But even before that, his family seemed to be all in. A Wall Street Journal report this month said Beau had urged his father to jump into the race just before he died.

And Biden's political life has been forged by tragedy — a car wreck took the lives of his wife and infant daughter shortly after he was elected in 1972. Biden had to be persuaded to even take the oath of office — which he did by the hospital bedside of Beau and his other son, Hunter, who were injured in the wreck.

But even before then, Biden had made very few moves to indicate he was seriously looking at a run, other than the occasional chatter and some official visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina on behalf of the White House.

Biden has slowly begun to step back into his regular duties. Visiting a California manufacturing plant last week, Biden even joked, "I'm looking for a job."

The radio silence has Pierce holding out hope for a Biden candidacy, even if Clinton is still atop polls.

"He hasn't said yes, but at the same time, he hasn't said no," Pierce said.

One reason for Biden's indecision, Begleiter says, is that it's not advantageous for Biden to say he's disinterested in running, because that could damage his influence on the world stage.

But if Biden wants to run, he will need to hire staff and raise money — both of which are flowing to other Democrats right now.

"Biden's been an outstanding vice president, he was a wonderful senator, but it is very late in the process," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. "My guess is, a sober look at the politics, will suggest it's not a wise move at this point."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

There are only five Democrats running for president. Friends of Joe Biden would like him to be the sixth. The vice president has run twice before, but there have been few indications Biden will run this year. And he's kept a decidedly low profile since the death of his son Beau to brain cancer in May. As NPR's Jessica Taylor reports, Biden allies in at least one grass-roots group are calling for him to get into the race.

JESSICA TAYLOR, BYLINE: The idea of Joe Biden as president has been treated as a punch line by late-night comedians.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON: In a new interview, the president discussed the upcoming election and said that Hillary Clinton is going to do great as a presidential candidate.

(CHEERING)

FALLON: When asked how Biden would do, Obama said Hillary is going to do great.

(LAUGHTER)

TAYLOR: That was Jimmy Fallon last April. Despite six years as vice president and decades in the Senate, there's still the caricature of Biden as a sidekick who regularly sticks his foot in his mouth. The fact that he's not in the mix is odd, says Ralph Begleiter. He's a professor of political communication at the University of Delaware.

RALPH BEGLEITER: It's a little unusual for a sitting vice president of the United States to not be assumed as a candidate for the presidency.

TAYLOR: One person hoping to change that is Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman and friend of the vice president. He says Biden's biggest selling point might be those occasional missteps.

DICK HARPOOTLIAN: People want someone who's genuine, someone that does commit a malapropism from time to time. But what they know is this - he's incredibly smart. He's incredibly energetic, and nobody knows how Washington works or doesn't work better than Joe Biden.

TAYLOR: That relatability is something that Clinton has struggled with. Harpootlian argues that Biden's blue-collar background will give him the upper hand over Clinton with voters.

HARPOOTLIAN: I have deep concerns about Hillary Clinton's ability to win in November 2016. I'm very concerned about her ability to make the case that she is someone that can appeal to folks - independent swing folks - in those states.

TAYLOR: But there's one big problem. If Biden wants to run he will need to hire staff and raise money, both of which are flowing to other Democrats right now. The group Ready For Biden is trying to fix that. They popped up earlier this year trying to lay the groundwork in early primary states and are advertising online.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Some people ask why Joe Biden? I turn back and ask them why not Joe Biden?

TAYLOR: Fueled by online donations, the group has about a dozen staffers, including state directors in Iowa and New Hampshire. More than 150,000 people have signed a petition saying they are, quote, "ridin' with Biden." On Saturday they held a National Day of Action with events in 14 states as a public plea to Biden that the country needs him.

WILL PIERCE: He's someone who's always put his country ahead of himself and that's what we need right now.

TAYLOR: That's 27-year-old Will Pierce, who started Ready For Biden. He was a low-level staffer on the Obama 2008 campaign and is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Supporters hope the loss of Biden's son Beau won't halt a run. The vice president has slowly begun to step back into his regular duties. At a stop in California last week, Biden even joked, I'm looking for a job. That kind of remark gives Pierce hope.

PIERCE: He hasn't said yes, but at the same time, he hasn't said no.

TAYLOR: And Begleiter, the political communication expert, says there's no reason for Biden to say no at this point.

BEGLEITER: Why should he undermine that level of credibility and political power by arbitrarily taking himself out of the race?

TAYLOR: But with a little over six months until the Iowa caucuses, it's possible that it's already too late for Joe Biden to say yes. Jessica Taylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.