A CNN/ORC poll published last Friday showed that the public disapproves of the way President Obama is leading the country by a margin of 51 percent to 47 percent.
This would be troubling news for Obama if he were seeking a third term, which of course he’s not. But it could be a serious liability for Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s leading cheerleader and policy advocate, if Biden decides to make a late entry into the presidential campaign this fall.
After months of private deliberations and consultation with his family, Democratic party activists and potential campaign donors, the 72-year-old Biden is now “increasingly leaning” towards challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their party’s presidential nomination, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The vice president sounded out political activists in South Carolina during a recent vacation. More intriguingly, Biden arranged a private meeting last Saturday in the vice president’s official residence with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a rock star among liberal Democrats.
Biden reportedly returned to Washington, D.C., from his home in Delaware to meet with the freshman Democrat for lunch, discussing a wide range of political and policy topics for nearly two hours. According to NBC News, the two delved into the state of the Republican and Democratic contests, but Biden did not directly seek Warren’s endorsement – at least not for now.
Warren, a champion of consumer protection and a bitter critic of Wall Street, gave serious thought to seeking the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination before deciding against it – much to the disappointment of a vigorous “draft Warren” campaign mounted by liberal Democrats and progressives. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Democratic socialist, subsequently picked up the liberal mantle and has run an impressive campaign that has drawn some of the largest crowds of any candidate.
But Warren has yet to endorse Sanders or anyone else for president. There has never been much love lost between Warren and Clinton, who is from the moderate wing of the party and whose long-standing relationships with Wall Street businessmen and other wealthy interests have grated on Warren. In an interview on Sunday in Boston, Warren told WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller that she was not committed to any one Democratic candidate. And in an apparent reference to Clinton, Warren said that “I don’t think anyone has been anointed.”
The idea of a Biden-Warren alliance – or perhaps even a Biden-Warren ticket -- would almost certainly shock and energize the party and provide an interesting mixture of political experience and progressive ideas. It would also force party leaders and rank and file Democrats to make a brutally tough reassessment of the state of the campaign, especially among those who worry about the mushrooming scandal surrounding Clinton’s handling of State Department emails and those who doubt Sanders could win a general election if nominated.
Biden, should he run, likely would appeal to traditional, older Democrats, civil rights groups and union households. Warren, 66, while hardly a millennial, nonetheless would draw strong support from younger Americans and college students who are fascinated with her ideas to change the country and bolster economic and educational programs for the middle class.
“What I will say is, I’m committed to getting up every single day and fighting for the families who sent me,” Warren told Keller.
Not everyone thinks a Warren endorsement would change the landscape. “Sen. Warren chose not to run, and she isn't going to be able to deflate Bernie Sanders -- where most of her backers went -- with a few good words about Biden,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “Nor could she draw votes already committed to Hillary; it's been obvious for some time that Warren isn't crazy about Clinton. So the endorsement would get a lot of media attention and would move the needle little if at all.”
Meanwhile, the White House on Monday said Obama might make an endorsement in the Democratic primary, potentially putting him in the unenviable position of having to choose between his two-time running mate and his former secretary of state.
If he does jump into the mix, Biden would face a daunting challenge in assembling a viable campaign and fundraising organization to overcome Clinton’s huge advantages before the early caucuses and primaries next year.
The CNN/ORC poll shows that Clinton leads Republican billionaire Donald Trump in a hypothetical matchup by six percentage points. And while the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has tightened, Democrats still prefer Clinton by 47 percent overall compared to 29 percent for Sanders and just 14 percent for Biden.
Another poll released on Monday by Quinnipiac University of voters in the three crucial swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania offers even more compelling evidence of why a Biden challenge would be a long-shot at best: By overwhelming margins (71 percent to 26 percent in Florida, 72 percent to 26 percent in Ohio and 74 percent to 24 percent in Pennsylvania), voters say they don’t want another four years of Obama policies.
In some ways, Biden’s challenge would be similar to that of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has repeatedly stumbled in attempting to put distance between himself and the Iraq policies of his brother, former Republican president George W. Bush. Biden has loyally stood by Obama on most policies, only rarely getting out in front of him – as he did in 2012 by declaring his support of gay marriage while Obama was still on record as opposing it.
Obama included Biden, a former U.S. senator, in many of the administration’s most difficult deliberations and gave him free rein to test his mettle in defense and national security issues. Obama also allowed Biden to travel widely throughout the country and overseas, to run a high-profile presidential task force on gun violence after the Newton, Conn., elementary school shootings, and to intervene to help negotiate major budget deals with the congressional Republicans. They have marched in lock-step over economic policy, strategy for combating ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq, and in the negotiations with Iran for a new nuclear non-proliferation agreement.
So it would be a tall order for Biden to convince voters that he is his “own man” and is capable of leading the country in a new direction as president.
And yet his intriguing weekend meeting with Warren has fueled speculation of a potentially game-changing alliance that could make a Biden candidacy a far more plausible prospect.
Martin Matishak contributed to this report.