With the first Democratic presidential campaign slated for Oct. 13 , Vice President Joseph Biden has just about run out of time before deciding whether to enter the race at the last minute and challenge Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the 2016 nomination.
By now, the 72-year old vice president’s dilemma over whether to make a third and final bid for the presidency has been well vetted: He’s still grieving over the tragic death of his son, Beau, and questions whether he would have sufficient fire in his belly to drag his family through another long and difficult campaign. While there are plenty of advisers and supporters waiting in the wings for a positive signal from Biden, he doesn’t minimize the challenge of raising big money and organizing a sophisticated national campaign organization to take on Clinton’s gold-plated campaign organization.
And while few would challenge the vice president’s domestic and foreign policy chops, he would be cast in the role of having to defend virtually every Obama administration policy, even while Clinton – the former Obama administration Secretary of State – has been gradually distancing herself from the president’s unpopular policies in Syria and Iraq.
Yet with Clinton’s campaign steadily losing altitude because of the controversy of her mishandling of her email while at the State Department and widespread voter distrust of her veracity, Biden would hold a trump card heading into the race: a compelling argument that with years of experience and political knowhow, he would be a far more effective candidate in the general election than Clinton or Sanders.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that while Clinton retains a lead in the Democratic race over Sanders and others, Biden would be a far more formidable candidate in the general election against any of the current GOP frontrunners.
In a head-to-head matchup with billionaire Donald Trump, for example, Clinton leads by ten points among all voters, 49 percent to 39 percent, but Biden beats Trump by 21 points, 56 percent to 35 percent. While Clinton slightly trails Republican Ben Carson in a hypothetical matchup, 46 percent to 45 percent, Biden would top the popular retired neurosurgeon, 49 percent to 41 percent.
That pattern continues in matchups with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former Florida governor Jeb Bush: Clinton is locked in a virtual tie with those two while Biden holds a six to eight point lead over them.
The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll’s finding comes with a huge caveat: For all of her political problems and high negatives, Clinton still holds a substantial lead nationwide among Democrats while Biden – for now at least – doesn’t pose a direct threat. However, the poll released on Monday suggests that a Biden candidacy would greatly complicate Clinton’s path to the nomination by draining her support among minority voters and others.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who helped conduct the survey, said that a late campaign entry by Biden would be “a real nightmare for the Clinton campaign.” Another new poll by Morning Consult highlights Biden’s relative popularity among voters in contrast to Clinton. He is viewed favorably by 49 percent of voters surveyed nationally, while 40 percent view him in an unfavorable light. By comparison, Clinton is viewed favorably by 43 percent of voters and unfavorably by 53 percent.
Even so, Clinton, 67, continues to lead the Democratic field, with 44 percent to 23 percent for Sanders, the 74-year-old socialist Democratic senator from Vermont, with Biden finishing third with 19 percent, according to the Morning Consult poll. And should the vice president ultimately decide to stay out of the race, it would be a major boon for Clinton, who according to other surveys would pick up the vast majority of Biden’s support – especially among minority voters.
CNN, which is hosting the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas in two weeks, is making it as easy as possible for Biden to make a late entry into the race and still qualify to take part in the debate. The cable network released its debate criteria on Monday, which would allow the vice president to wait until literally the morning of the debate to formally announce his candidacy.
CNN has lowered the bar in order to throw open the debate to just about everyone in the Democratic field. Candidates must score an average of one percent in three polls recognized by the network and released between August 1 and Oct. 10. That means that former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia senator Jim Webb and former Rhode Island senator and governor Lincoln Chafee will also be on the stage.
Even then, the stage will look a little empty compared with the two massive Republican debate cattle shows up until now.