After son’s death, Biden not ruling out 2016 bid

Washington CNN  — 

As Vice President Joe Biden slowly returns to official duties in Washington following his son’s death, a decision on mounting a third presidential bid looms in the not-so-distant future.

In just more than a month, Biden will determine whether or not to make another go at the top job. And while those close to the vice president insist a presidential run is the furthest thing from his mind, his supporters are holding out hope he decides to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

As he steps back into public life, Biden has set an early August deadline for making his intentions known, said a Democrat familiar with his thinking. Before his son’s death, Biden consistently said he wasn’t ruling out making a third bid for president.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported Biden’s sons – the late Beau Biden, and Hunter Biden – had both encouraged their father to mount another presidential campaign.

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A Biden confidante, former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian, said that he had a number of conversations with Beau before his death about the vice president’s future plans.

“Every time he was very positive about his father running,” he said. One of these conversations was at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Harpootlian said the whole Biden family – including Hunter – have been pushing the vice president to run and that because Biden is a man “who has always put family first,” that push could be powerful.

However, another source close to Biden said that “to derive from the last month that (the vice president) is in a better frame of mind to think about a presidential run is completely incorrect,” adding that Biden – still mourning his son – isn’t yet prepared to make a final decision.

After his son’s death, Biden has stepped slowly back into public life, including delivering public remarks at a White House conference on climate change. In the speech, Biden returned to his signature oratory style, diverging from his prepared remarks to crack jokes and jab Republicans who deny man-made climate change, claiming they “also deny gravity.”

The vice president’s return to work was touched by further grief when a man he met last year at a prayer breakfast in Columbia, South Carolina – Rev. Clementa Pinckney – was gunned down inside his church in Charleston.

Biden traveled to Charleston on Friday to attend Pinckney’s funeral, where Obama delivered the eulogy. On Sunday, he made a surprise stop at the Emanuel AME Church, where the shooting happened. Speaking to the congregation, he alluded to his own son’s death.

“I wish I could say something that would ease the pain of the families and of the church but I know from experience – and I was reminded of it again 29 days ago – that no words can mend a broken heart. No music can fill the gaping void,” Biden said. He concluded that “only faith” could help carry the victims’ families past their grief.

In his last public update on his presidential aspirations, he told a group of regional reporters in April he had “plenty of time” to make a decision about running. Since then, Clinton has begun campaigning in earnest, holding a kick-off rally in New York City and traveling to early voting states to try and consolidate what began as a massive lead among Democratic voters.

Of her declared challengers so far, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont appears to pose the greatest challenge, gaining momentum in polls as a liberal challenger. But when he’s included in surveys, Biden still holds a consistent second place to Clinton, even as other candidates join the race.

A CNN/ORC survey from late May put Biden at 14% among Democrats – well behind Clinton at 60%, but ahead of declared candidates Sanders, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

In the poll, Biden also ranked as the top second choice for Democrats – 33% said he was their No. 2 option, ahead of Clinton, Sanders and Webb.

While not at groundswell levels, ardent support for Biden does exist in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where Draft Biden – a group unaffiliated with the vice president – says it’s preparing to establish offices.

The independent group says it’s garnered nearly 100,000 signatures on a petition to convince Biden to join the race, and on Monday announced it was hiring state directors in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Without a clear “no” from Biden, his supporters continue to harbor hopes he’ll jump into the race – even as they concede politics may be the furthest thing from the vice president’s mind as he mourns his son.

“It could go either way. Nobody’s going to get inside Joe Biden’s head to figure that out,” Harpootlian said, adding he spoke with the vice president 10 days before Beau Biden’s death.

At the time, Biden “talked in specific terms” about launching a presidential bid, including describing campaign logistics and costs.

“No one will criticize him if he says, ‘It’s just not the right time for me,’” he continued. “We all have to sit back and wait with respect until he decides.”

CNN’s Dan Merica and Gloria Borger contributed to this report.