Sept. 02–As Vice President Joe Biden weighs whether to take on Hillary Clinton, he’ll be gathering political intelligence and gauging potential support for a presidential campaign during a two-day trip to South Florida.
Biden has a range of official and political business on his schedule Wednesday and Thursday: discussing college affordability and workforce training at community colleges at Miami-Dade College; selling the nuclear agreement with Iran before a gathering of Jewish leaders in Davie; and mingling with major Florida campaign donors when he headlines a fundraising dinner for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democratic senators.
At every stop, Biden’s words and actions will be scrutinized for clues about whether he will seek the Democratic nomination for president.
No state is more important than Florida in the presidential election. It’s the biggest swing state in the U.S., awarding more than 10 percent of the electoral votes required to win the presidency. And it’s a state in which Clinton has long enjoyed a wide reservoir of support among Democrats.
Biden’s admirers in Florida have become more vocal about their desire for a Biden presidential candidacy as Clinton’s poll numbers have softened and increasing numbers of voters view her as untrustworthy.
“He should run,” said state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Democrat who represents northwest Broward. “If Joe Biden runs, sign me up. I would be one of his biggest supporters.”
Ring isn’t a Biden newcomer. Before Biden’s campaign for the 2008 presidential nomination fizzled, Ring championed his candidacy — he recalls it as a “solo charge” — when virtually every other elected official in South Florida was supporting Clinton. Ring said the intervening eight years have strengthened his support.
“He would be a better president,” Ring said. “He can rally a country. He doesn’t have the stains. People trust him. He speaks with you or to you and not at you. He’s approachable.”
Like other supporters, Ring praised the vice president’s ability to connect with working class voters and the “super human strength” he’s displayed through personal tragedies: the 1972 deaths of his first wife and year-old daughter and the May death of his son, Beau.
Biden isn’t a stranger to Florida. He’s visited more than 30 times since he became vice president, including multiple appearances atBroward and Palm Beach county’s retiree-filled condominium communities and delivering the commencement address to the Class of 2012 at Weston’s Cypress Bay High School. A decade before, as a U.S. senator from Delaware, he was on the campaign trail on behalf of Bill McBride, the party’s 2002 candidate for Florida governor.
Gordon Deckelbaum, a semi-retired real estate developer and former chairman of the Jewish Federation of Broward County, andAngelo Sands, the golf coach at Florida Atlantic University, both contributed to Biden’s previous presidential effort.
“I have thought for a while that he would be the best man in the country for the job. I have been hoping for months that he would take this on,” said Deckelbaum, who lives in Hollywood. Like Ring, he said Biden has shown he can work across the political aisle with Republicans and overcome partisan gridlock in Washington.
Sands, the former mayor of New Castle, Pa., who now lives in Boca Raton, said he got to know Pennsylvania-native Biden during theJimmy Carter era in the late 1970s. “He’s a really good man,” he said. “If Joe runs, I’m there.”
Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, who was one of a handful of prominent South Florida Democrats who supported Barack Obama early in his first presidential campaign, said she’s so far unaffiliated in the 2016 contest.
“I’m looking forward to the vice president making a decision,” she said. “There is a place for someone else in the field.”
Though polling shows Clinton first among Democrats in Florida and nationally, Ritter said anyone who is convinced Clinton is the sure winner of the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is forgetting 2008, when she lost the primary race to Obama. “Eight years ago I heard it was locked up for Hillary Clinton and that turned out to be not the case.”
An Aug. 20 Quinnipiac University of poll of Florida Democrats found 48 percent supporting Clinton, 15 percent for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and 11 percent for Biden. Clinton lost a quarter of her support from the previous survey nine weeks earlier.
Steve Schale, a Biden supporter who was Obama’s Florida campaign director in 2008 and senior adviser to his 2012 re-election campaign, said voters know Biden isn’t — at least for now — a candidate, something that holds down the number who identify themselves as supporters when pollsters call. A deeper look at other poll questions shows Biden is usually more popular than Clinton or Sanders.
Ritter said Clinton’s 37 percent favorability and 55 percent unfavorability are a concern. “The wrong one goes up and the right one goes down.”
Biden, by contrast, is 44 percent favorable/43 percent favorable. Both are viewed favorably by 80 percent of Democrats. And 52 percent of voters said Biden is honest and trustworthy; 64 percent of voters said Clinton isn’t honest and trustworthy.
Republicans are using Biden’s Florida trip as an opportunity to play up Clinton’s negatives. Republican National Committeespokeswoman Ali Pardo said “it’s not surprising that Democrats are unsatisfied and looking for other options. We are 15 months out from the elections and Hillary Clinton has already lost the trust of a large majority of voters yet doubles down and continues to mislead Americans about her secret email server and flip-flop on issues for political gain.”
The national Draft Biden super political action committee has signed up almost 100 Florida volunteers, a spokeswoman said. Their mission is to recruit more supporters, promote the vice president, and attempt to secure endorsements from elected officials.
“Would there be people supporting him? Absolutely,” said Clinton supporter Mitch Ceasar, who’s taken a leave of absence as Broward Democratic Party chairman to run for clerk of the circuit court. “This would still be Hillary country.”
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