Biden vs. Clinton: Would Joe Stand a Chance?
Policy + Politics

Biden vs. Clinton: Would Joe Stand a Chance?

REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The early speculation about the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee — hey, Election Day is only 1,179 days away! – has mostly centered on Hillary, Hillary, Hillary.

While the former Secretary of State is “hot” — she leads potential Republican candidates in recent polls looking at the potential 2016 field and has sketched out a series of policy speeches that will keep her in the spotlight on the major political issues of the moment – there’s at least one other high-profile Democrat who’s also laying the groundwork, albeit more quietly, for a possible presidential run. Oh, and he just happens to be the sitting vice president.

“Political allies of Vice President Joe Biden have concluded that he can win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination — even if Hillary Clinton enters the contest — and are considering steps he could take to prepare for a potential candidacy,” Monday’s Wall Street Journal reported. One of those steps might be the formation of a political action committee that would allow Biden to raise money and distribute it to candidates in neat year’s midterm elections, thus forging closer ties to Democrats who could help his campaign two years later.

Biden’s camp has dismissed speculation about his plans, and Biden himself has danced around the idea of a White House bid, telling GQ magazine earlier this year, "I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States, but it doesn't mean I won't run."

"The judgment I'll make is, first of all, am I still as full of as much energy as I have now — do I feel this?" he told GQ. "Number two, do I think I'm the best person in the position to move the ball? And, you know, we'll see where the hell I am."

So where the hell is Biden going to be? In Iowa, for starters. He will deliver the keynote speech next month at an annual Iowa fund-raising event hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). An appearance at a May fundraising dinner for the South Carolina Democratic Primary and a planned fundraiser in Maine for the governor of New Hampshire have also fueled the speculation about a 2016 run.

If he does run, Biden would likely face long odds against Clinton – an unusual situation for a sitting vice president. The last No. 2 to seek the nomination and lose it was Alben Barkley, who was beaten out in 1952 by fellow Democrat Adlai Stevenson, the Journal noted. Yet Clinton holds a commanding lead in recent polls asking voters which candidate they’d most like to see get the nomination, including a 40 percentage point edge over Biden in a July hypothetical matchup tested by Public Policy Polling.

Age was an issue for Barkley – sworn in at age 70, he was the oldest vice president ever elected – and it might be one for Biden, who would turn 74 the same month as the 2016 election. “By that same measure, though, why should Hillary Clinton be considered a lock for the nomination?” asks Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. “She’ll be 69 years old in 2016, with a track record of surprising failure in presidential campaigns, too.”

But if age or experience aren’t problems, Biden might still need to convince campaign donors that he’s worth backing – and convince voters that he’s presidential material.

“Hillary Clinton has such an entrenched system already in place. She is excellent – excellent – at raising money and her husband is one of the great elder statesmen of the Democratic Party,” says Alison Dagnes, a professor of political science at Shippensburg University and a contributor to a blog about “The Invisible Primary” going on now. Biden, she says, “would have to be convinced that he could raise a significant amount of campaign contributions – enough to be competitive against Hillary in the real primary, which is a bruising season.”

If Al Gore was caricatured as a stiff and Dick Cheney was the evil manipulator who shot his friend in the face, Biden has been lampooned as the avuncular, gaffe-plagued goofball. On the other hand, he’s less well-known than Clinton, which could actually be an advantage, according to Dagnes.

“What Biden has going for him, as it turns out, is that far fewer people know who he is than know who Hillary is. The statistics show that about 60 percent of the American public can name the vice president,” says Dagnes. “Everybody knows who Hillary is. Everybody. And she’s one of those figures, like Sarah Palin, that you either love her or you hate her like poison. That is the problem that Hillary has that Joe Biden doesn’t.”

So if Clinton is the presumed frontrunner, and will likely remain so unless she decides not to run, the Journal story serves as a reminder that Hillary isn’t the Democrat’s only option – and that Biden might believe he can beat her. “It’s a reminder,” writes Jonathan Tobin at Commentary, that Biden “isn’t inclined to go quietly into the night as the Obama presidency winds down. The vice president has spent his life itching for the Oval Office and if you think he will be deterred from running by long odds, you don’t know Joe Biden.”