Joe Biden's mixed messages

Washington (CNN)As Vice President Joe Biden undertakes the parallel tasks of pondering a third presidential bid and promoting the White House's agenda, he's sending mixed signals on just how close he is to becoming a candidate.

Interpreting Biden's speeches and interviews yields little clarity about his presidential ambitions. The vice president, sometimes in the same day, has swung from campaign-style rallies punctuated by chants of "Run, Joe, Run" to pensive introspection casting doubt on his emotional readiness for a race.
Aides and advisers say this is just another sign that Biden is truly undecided about a run and not leaning one way or the other. His self-declared "end-of-summer" deadline is expected to come and go this week without an announcement, and without a firm new date by which he says he'll decide.
In his more pensive moments, Biden has admitted that a specific timeline for deciding is unrealistic considering the grief he and his family continue to feel following the death of Beau Biden this summer.
    "It's just not there yet and it may not get there in time to make it feasible to be able to run and succeed, because there are certain windows that will close," Biden told the Catholic magazine "America" last week.
    Biden's acknowledgment of the fast-approaching deadlines on the Democratic primary calendar reflect what Democratic strategists have been saying for weeks: Biden doesn't have forever if he hopes to challenge Hillary Clinton for his party's nomination.
    Even waiting until now has put Biden behind in terms of staffing up and fundraising. Sitting out the first Democratic debate, a CNN sponsored event on October 13, would eliminate one of only six opportunities the Democratic National Committee has carved out for its candidates to spar.
    By November, filing deadlines begin appearing -- requiring, in some cases, signatures from supporters in order to appear on the ballot.
    And while those tasks could technically be completed without Biden formally declaring his candidacy -- leading some of his supporters to speculate an entry could come as late as next year -- the vice president's own comments suggest the decision-making process won't extend endlessly.
    "If that's it, that's it. It's not like I can rush it," he said in the interview with "America." "I know that's not satisfying to anybody."
    Those comments were reminiscent of his interview earlier this month with Stephen Colbert, during which Biden appeared to step further away from a run.
    "I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there," he told Colbert on "The Late Show." "I'm being completely honest."
    But even as he hedges publicly about making a decision, Biden has eagerly road-tested his message at official White House events -- sending a drastically different signal than his quieter moments might suggest.
    He hasn't shied away from raucous crowds cheering his name, appearing to welcome the return to campaign-like cadences and sign-waving crowds that would likely await him if he decides to run. His stops in swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida have fueled assumptions he's closer to jumping into the race.
    He's slammed Republicans running for president -- including Donald Trump, who he assailed by name as offering a "sick message" on immigration.
    Addressing a rally of union workers in New York City hours before his Colbert interview, Biden demanded the restoration of a "basic bargain" to ensure employees are able to share in their workplace's profits -- sparking chants of "Run, Joe, Run" from the crowd.
    Days earlier in Pittsburgh, he tore into issues like income inequality and union-busting, proclaiming himself "hot," "mad," and "angry" that the economic recovery seen over the past seven years hasn't yet reached the middle class.
    Encouraged by the crowd to run for the White House, he deferred only to his family -- setting his own intentions aside.
    "You gotta talk to my wife about that," he quipped. "I've gotta talk to my wife about that."
    Once thought to be a hold-out, Dr. Jill Biden signaled support for a potential run in a statement from her office over the weekend -- though didn't go so far as to say she was urging her husband to jump in.
    "Of course Dr. Biden would be on board if her husband decides to run for president but they haven't made that decision yet," said her spokesman James Gleeson.
    The statement offered a glimmer of hope for Biden's supporters, who -- without official word from Biden himself -- are left reading tea leaves about the possibility of a run.
    They were similarly cheered two weeks ago when news emerged that Biden met with top Democratic donor Robert Wolf, who raised millions for Obama and could help Biden catch up to Clinton's campaign hauls. A letter from dozens of major Democratic donors encouraging Biden to enter the race had a similar effect.
    And they gain hope from reports that Biden's political advisers continue to lay the groundwork for a potential campaign, even as sources inside the vice president's orbit insist those maneuvers are simply due diligence should he decide to run.
    "This weekend offered more positive signs of momentum as the vice president considers entering the race for the presidency," the group Draft Biden wrote in a memo to reporters on Monday. "As he works through his own process, with each passing day, there is more enthusiasm building for his possible bid."