Sitting at his Florida home last week nursing a broken leg, Steve Schale came across a story in The New York Times that detailed Vice President Joe Biden’s further steps toward a run for the White House.
Schale, a top Democratic strategist in the key swing state of Florida and a veteran of President Barack Obama’s campaigns, got to emailing back and forth with one of the story’s authors, Jonathan Martin. He soon said he was “Ready for Joe.”
“I’m not making some grand political calculation. I have a very nice life in Florida,” Schale told Business Insider in a phone interview last week. “I’m not looking to move to Washington or work on a presidential campaign. I just like the guy, and I think if he runs, it’d be exciting to be a part of.”
Schale’s journey illustrates the complexities of a potential Biden candidacy, the possibilities of which have grown incrementally over the past few weeks. Biden’s name has been floated increasingly as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in 2016, continues to face a flurry of controversy over her use of a private email server during her time in the State Department.
Biden, who supporters and friends expect to make a final decision by sometime in September, would be entering the race extremely late — no more than five months before the Iowa caucuses. He has little campaign infrastructure. He has not built up the kind of war chest that can sustain a lengthy campaign. Then there are the concerns about his age (74 by the time he would take office in 2017) and his penchant to slip up on the campaign trail.
And yet, there are increasing signs that he would have an opening against Clinton if he decided to run. And as the Biden chatter has picked up, the “Draft Biden” super PAC that is urging the vice president to run has gotten increasingly serious.
In early August, a senior adviser to Biden’s late son, Beau, joined the group. The adviser, Josh Alcorn, has been reaching out to Democratic leaders in key early states and helping to lay the financial groundwork for a potential campaign, according to people familiar with the group’s efforts. (The group didn’t respond to an interview request.)
Schale, another significant haul for the group, informally came on board this week. He said he’s not going to be paid by the group and will “pitch in” as needed.
“Like many Americans, I hope the Vice President will make the decision to seek the presidency, and I am honored to join a team that is actively working to build a foundation for him to hit the ground running, should he ultimately decide to enter the race,” Schale said.
The vice president himself, meanwhile, has also been reaching out to friends and associates within the Democratic Party.
Inez Moore Tenenbaum, a South Carolina attorney who served as the chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission from 2009-13, told Business Insider that she and her husband spoke with Biden over the phone last Thursday for about an hour, while he vacationed with his family in South Carolina.
Though Tenenbaum said Biden didn’t indicate whether he was leaning one way or another on entering the race, she said it was clear he is “really studying the situation” and that he is “seriously thinking” about getting into the fray. She said that his entry would instantly change the dynamic of the Democratic primary, brushing aside the potential hurdles of fundraising and building a campaign infrastructure.
“He has experience in putting together a staff, and he has experience running for president before,” Tenenbaum said, referencing Biden’s past runs in 1988 and 2008. “He’s surrounded by people who are not novices. He’s well known in this state and beyond, and he’s loved.”
The numbers suggest there’s an opening for Biden. A new series of Quinnipiac University polls released Thursday provided more troubling news for Clinton and gave more credence to a Biden run. Clinton is winning among the Democratic primary field in all three states, but her favorability scores are the lowest for any Democrat, and she’s also the least likely to be viewed as “honest and trustworthy.”
Biden, meanwhile, is running about equal or better with Clinton in head-to-head matchups with potential Republican challengers in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. And his underlying scores on favorability, honesty, and trustworthiness could put him in better position than Clinton heading into the general election.
No presidential candidate since 1960 has won a general election without winning at least two of these three states.
“Biden, who is spending his time in seclusion, contemplating whether to take on Secretary Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries for president, has some new information to consider,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
“In head-to-head matchups against the three leading contenders for the Republican nomination, he runs as well or slightly better than she does.”
A recent Monmouth University poll also found Biden with 13% support from Democratic primary voters. But another 12% said they would be very likely to support him if he got in the race, and still another 31% said they would be at least somewhat likely to vote for him. Most of that support would come at the expense of Clinton, as the two would be fighting for similar voters.
Still, despite the controversy around her use of a private email server, Clinton remains a formidable front-runner. Despite a surge from Sanders over the past few months, she still leads national Democratic primary polls by approximately two-dozen points.
She has already raised gobs of money, even breaking a record set by Obama in 2012. And she has piled up key endorsements from almost half of the Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives.
But those who admire Biden — like Schale and Dick Harpootlian, an outspoken Biden supporter and former chair of the Democratic Party — emphasise his political authenticity, in a time when the American electorate yearns for more and more of it. They say he’ll connect better with the average voter and that he doesn’t have the same type of baggage as Clinton.
Harpootlian likes to tell the story of one golf outing a few years ago in South Carolina, when the vice president sliced a ball so far right that it went into the fairway of another hole.
After a more juiced up version of “gosh darn it,” and despite some anxious Secret Service agents, Biden insisted on retrieving the ball. And before Harpootlian knew it, Biden was chatting up a couple on whose hole he had sliced the shot.
They happened to be from somewhere near Delaware, Biden’s home state, and he couldn’t get enough answers from them in the few minutes that followed.
Where did they live? What did they do? Where did their kids go to school?
“He doesn’t see them,” Harpootlian said, “in terms of polling data.”
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