Biden Talks; Fans Eager for Word He'll Run

Biden Talks; Fans Eager for Word He'll Run
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Vice President Biden was busy Wednesday with the usual second-fiddle assignments he so often shoulders, but with a twist: every word, every motion was dissected as if Biden has a secret.

A big one.

The vice president, a man of many confidences but a politician rarely scolded for keeping his thoughts to himself, played up his season of suspense in the teasing, wink-wink fashion that is pure Biden.

“Look at all the press you’ve attracted,” he told a Miami Dade College crowd gathered to hear his remarks about the administration’s support for community colleges. “[The media’s] interest in community colleges has impressed me. I hope that’s what they’re going to write about."

The vice president knew exactly what drew a large media assemblage to a sweltering Florida classroom. When reporters shouted two questions about whether Biden will enter the Democratic presidential primaries, he ignored them, and his staff cranked up campaign-style music to drown out the distractions.

There were moments that made Biden’s appearance entertaining, especially compared with the harsh, scripted and often hyperbolic tenor of the presidential race (on both sides). 

Biden, as everyone knows, likes to riff. Or float, depending on a listener’s point of view. He mistook a professor for a student (and said his confusion was actually a compliment). He scrawled his name on white lab coats worn by students and was pronounced “awesome.” And he stopped mid-sentence for a butterfly.

When a winged insect (some thought it was a moth) fluttered through the classroom during his speech, Biden interrupted himself. “What is the possible rationale for that butterfly?” he mused. “The butterfly agrees with me!” the vice president announced to laughter.

It wasn’t just the Florida setting that fanned the suspense, or the big-dollar fundraising event Biden headlined for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Wednesday evening, or the veep’s decision to appear on Labor Day with the president of America’s largest labor federation (occurring in Pennsylvania, Biden’s home state). 

It was the politicking he appeared to savor, shaking hands, touting the Obama-Biden record and their shared aspirations for the middle-class, and his acceptance that he was being examined like a bug, dissected for hidden meaning when he said things like, “People who aren’t willing to risk failing never succeed.”

When a Miami Dade College student asked the vice president if he wanted to be a VIP lab assistant during a science demonstration, Biden showed restraint while passing up the chance to improvise in front of the cameras. “I’m going to watch,” he replied. “I can see the press headline: `Biden Screws Up Experiment.’” 

His decision-making process, and the Democrats’ experiment with political cliffhangers, could last another month. Biden plans to argue the benefits of a nuclear deal with Iran before Jewish audiences in Miami and Atlanta Thursday. He’ll be in Pittsburgh, celebrating American workers Sept. 7. And he’ll be Stephen Colbert’s guest Sept. 10 on CBS’s “The Late Show,” along with the CEO of Uber and singer Toby Keith. 

In the meantime, the vice president has done nothing definitive to form a presidential machine to raise funds and spend money as a candidate. Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, who said he discussed the race with Biden, said the vice president remains “deeply divided.” Coons endorsed his candidacy nonetheless.

“I think he is the best and strongest voice for America's middle class and our most seasoned and senior foreign policy and national security expert in the administration,” the senator told CNN.

The Draft Biden Super PAC, operating as an independent organization (populated by Obama campaign veterans and friends of Joe’s son, Beau Biden, who died in May), announced staff expansion in South Carolina on Wednesday. That strategy is seen as important because Biden’s aspirations, if he seeks the presidency a third time, may depend on a strong showing in the Palmetto State. Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have each built experienced teams in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first Democratic vote tallies are to take place in February. 

“Well over 200,000 Americans have signed a petition to ask the vice president to run,” the Biden Super PAC said in its announcement Wednesday.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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