Dems torn on a Biden 2016 run

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Joe Biden is mulling a run for president

But many of his former Democratic colleagues in the Senate are backing Hillary Clinton

Washington CNN  — 

They are among some of his closest friends: Senate Democrats who have known Joe Biden for decades.

But as he toys with a possible presidential run, many of those long-time allies are deeply torn about his potential challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

They deeply sympathize with his plight: How burying his son, Beau, is just the latest tragedy the vice president has suffered. They like him personally, having been to his home to break bread, serving with him in the Senate and working with him on legislation. And they all know how badly he wants to be president, given his repeated forays for the White House.

But they don’t know if now is the time to do it – or how he’ll be able to pull it off without badly damaging his legacy. And they’re torn between their loyalty to Barack Obama’s vice president and their widespread backing of Clinton’s bid to become the first woman president.

“I care about him,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, a Clinton backer. “He’s a wonderful man with a wonderful family that had an extremely painful year. So I worry he’ll get out there and won’t be able to pull away from Hillary.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, one of Biden’s closest friends in the Senate, has spoken several times with the vice president about his deliberations, including recently as he began to more publicly lay out his thinking.

But Nelson backs Clinton and plans to continue supporting the former secretary of state. And he believes, in the end, that Biden will take a pass.

“My personal opinion is at the end of the day, unless Hillary really has difficulty, I don’t think that he will run,” Nelson said.

Biden’s office declined to comment.

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In interviews with CNN, a wide cross-section of Senate Democrats said they would continue to support Clinton – no matter what Biden does. Yet with Clinton facing a spirited challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, some believe that the former secretary of state needs Biden in the race to make her a better candidate, given that she has struggled to put the growing controversy over use of a private email server while secretary of state to rest and faces anxiety from the progressive base.

“She’s been struggling,” one Democratic senator said privately.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, who was elected during the GOP wave of 2014, said he supports Clinton – but thinks a “robust primary” would only strengthen her candidacy.

“That’s healthy for the party,” Peters said.

After serving in the Senate for 36 years and with his gregarious nature, Biden has developed deep friendships in the Capitol. But he has at times angered his colleagues – especially in 2012, when he was the lead negotiator cutting a major New Year’s Eve fiscal deal with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader at the time, was furious at Biden, even later insisting that the vice president sit out future fiscal negotiations.

But in an interview Tuesday, Reid downplayed that past dispute, saying the two agree “on a hundred thousand different things.”

Asked about a Biden run, Reid said, “I love the Clintons. They have been my friends. I love what they’ve done for public service, their loyalty to me and my family. Joe Biden – I served with him in the Senate three decades. He’s a good man. I like him very much. We work together on a lot of issues.”

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While Reid said he wanted to let the primary process unfold, he added: “I don’t know really at this stage what is good or bad” when asked if a Biden run would be beneficial to his party.

Sen. Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who occupies Biden’s old seat, is a rare senator who has publicly endorsed a Biden run. He has spoken repeatedly with Biden during his deliberations about whether to support the Iran nuclear deal. And he said the vice president needs space to make a decision.

“I know a lot of factors will go into that,” Coons said.

But Coons’ support for Biden is decidedly in the minority.

“Look, I’m supporting Hillary,” said veteran California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. When asked whether Biden’s run would be helpful to Democrats, Feinstein said: “Good for the party? I don’t know what that means. What’s good for the party is winning that race.”

As Biden weighs a run, he’s stepped up his travel, including a $5,000 per person fundraiser Thursday in New York with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. It’s the fourth event Biden has done this cycle for the DSCC, which is the main political committee supporting Senate Democrats.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, the chairman of the DSCC, is staying neutral in the Democratic primary. But after Biden’s personal tragedy, Tester said he would be stunned if the vice president decided to run for president.

“I personally have never lost a child,” Tester said. “I don’t know how he could do it. I really don’t know mentally how he could do it.”

If he were to run, Biden would have to win backing both from the progressive, populist-minded voters who are flocking to Sanders as well the more party-minded Democrats who are loyal to Clinton. Some Senate Democrats don’t think that’s possible.

“It’s not like there’s a lot of people out there who are truly uncommitted,” McCaskill said. “I don’t see him pulling away support from Bernie. And Joe is literally the establishment, since he’s part of the administration – I don’t see how he pulls a great deal of support off Hillary.”

“I don’t think it matters for Hillary,” McCaskill added. “She’s got to earn this.”