Joe Biden has confirmed he is considering whether to run for president in his first publicly aired comments on whether he would seek the Democratic nomination.
The US vice-president, in a conference call with Democratic National Committee members, said he was trying to decide whether he could give “my whole heart and my whole soul” to a run for the White House, but also alluded to the burden that had been placed on his family by the death of his son, Beau Biden.
“We’re dealing at home with … whether or not there is the emotional fuel at this time to run,” Biden said, according to CNN, which said it gained access to the conversation.
In an audio clip aired by CNN, he went on: “If I were to announce to run, I have to be able to commit to all of you that I would be able to give it my whole heart and my whole soul, and right now both are pretty well banged up and we’re trying to figure out that issue.
“Believe me, I’ve given this a lot of thought and dealing internally with the family on how we do this,” Biden said during a conversation in which he also discussed the Iran nuclear deal.
Biden’s eldest son, Beau Biden, a former Delaware attorney general, died of cancer in May at age 46. It was another family tragedy for the vice-president, who lost his first wife and his daughter in a car accident shortly after he was first elected to the US Senate from Delaware in 1972.
Biden has been huddling with senior advisers to evaluate options for taking on Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is front-runner in the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and spent Wednesday in Iowa discussing issues facing rural America. She has struggled to overcome fallout from her use of a private email server while working as the nation’s top diplomat.
Speculation that Biden might run ratcheted up this past weekend when he met with the Massachusetts Democratic senatorElizabeth Warren, a powerbroker among liberals.
Clinton, speaking to reporters in Iowa on Wednesday, said Biden, a former Senate colleague, “is a friend of mine” for whom she has “a great deal of admiration and affection”.
She added that “he should have the space and opportunity” to decide what he wants to do.
If the vice-president does jump in, he would start in Iowa with a base of support that one Democratic activist described as “super-excited but limited”.
There are hosts of Iowa Democrats who have been loyal to the vice president since his first presidential run in 1988. They call him “Joe”, worry aloud about his family and try to combine excitement about a potential run with genuine heartfelt personal concern with how Biden is coping with the death of his son.
In addition, he would be buoyed by the skepticism that some Democrats have in the state towards Clinton, who finished a disappointing third to Barack Obama and John Edwards there in 2008.
At a Clinton event in Baldwin, Iowa, on Wednesday where the former secretary of state touted her new plan for rural America and proclaimed her dedication to delivering “more economic opportunity” to those parts of the country, some in the crowd were ready for Biden to jump in.
Rich Andersen of Maquoketa, Iowa, was a Biden supporter in 2008 and would support him again if he decided to run. Andersen said he liked Biden’s experience and thought he had what would it take to win a general election. However, if Biden didn’t run, he was still going back and forth between Bernie Sanders and Clinton.
Another attendee, Brian Roe from Maquoketa, said he would be split between Biden and Clinton if the vice-president threw his hat in the ring. Roe worried about “all these gaffes” that Biden made as well as whether the 72-year-old had the necessary energy to serve in the Oval Office.
Tom Vilsack, the longtime secretary of agriculture who supported Biden in his 1988 run for president and is now supporting Clinton, said after the event: “The vice-president is a great guy and he is going through an incredibly incredibly difficult time.”
He added: “The last thing he needs is any of us weighing in on what he should do. He’s got to have the space and ability to make up his own mind and his own decision. Having briefly run for president myself, I can tell you it is an incredibly difficult decision and he’s got to have the space and ability to make it without any pressure or undue influence that any person could pose and certainly respect whatever decision he makes.”
His approach was very different from that of former Iowa senator Tom Harkin, who served along Biden in the US Senate for nearly 25 years and announced his endorsement of Clinton 10 days ago. Harkin told the New York Times that he didn’t think it would be a “wise move” for Biden to run for president. Instead, he suggested that the vice-president could serve as secretary of state or ambassador to the United Nations in a Hillary Clinton administration. Harkin also said that he had promised his endorsement to Clinton earlier in the year but only made it public after the campaign asked him to do so.
Even if Biden decides to run, it is unclear whether he would be able to mount a winning effort. The vice-president is notoriously averse to fundraising and Biden supporters admit that his last presidential campaign in 2008 was wholly inadequate to the type of effort that is needed to win a modern Democratic primary. Further, in the crucial early caucus state of Iowa, the bench of experienced operatives is thin as many of those who understand the intense and complex effort needed to win the caucuses have either signed with other campaigns or committed to other jobs.
Yet, regardless of what decision the vice-president makes and what his chances may be, it’s clear that Clinton isn’t taking any chances and won’t risk being upset again in Iowa. Long after she finished her remarks and the sun went down Wednesday, the former secretary of state continued to press the flesh and taking pictures with and signing autographs for attendees. After all, as Clinton told the crowd earlier in the evening: “I am called a lot of things, as you may have heard from time to time, and quitter is never one of them.”
Reuters contributed to this report