Since World War II, a sitting vice president has sought his party's nomination for president four times: Al Gore, whose campaign I managed in 2000; the elder George Bush in 1988; Richard Nixon in 1960; and Alben Barkley, Harry Truman's vice president, in 1952. Of the four, only Barkley failed to be his party's presidential nominee.
It's rare that a president will wholeheartedly endorse a sitting vice president who has other challengers within the party. For instance, in 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sidestepped endorsing Nixon
for the nomination, even though Nixon's two most formidable potential opponents -- Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater -- effectively removed themselves from the nomination contest by not actively campaigning for it.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan didn't endorse
Vice President George H.W. Bush for president until Bush had clinched the nomination. And in 1952, Truman did not support Barkley but instead became a key player in drafting Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson for president.
Based on past history, and common sense, there's little chance then that President Barack Obama will choose between Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee. Biden will be on his own.
Republicans are for gleefully cheering on Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Biden until they become front-runners or threaten Republican candidates' own prospects. Then they will tear them down as they've attempted to do through the House Select Committee on Benghazi with Clinton. (And maybe start separate select committees -- that appears to be their favorite vehicle for negative campaigning, as Kevin McCarthy admitted in his revealing comments before dropping out of the race for House speaker).
Biden experienced something similar in 2012 when rumors, stoked by Republicans, circulated that he should be removed from the Democratic ticket for Clinton. Everyone understood that this was fair game to mock the administration, which had bad poll numbers.
For many reasons -- Clinton's previous campaign that garnered more than 18 million voters in the Democratic primaries, her early start in the race, her history-making potential, her endorsements from key Democratic officials across the country or her huge $75 million head start in fundraising and locking down major donors -- Biden would start at a deficit for a sitting vice president. She has also taken stances against the Trans Pacific Partnership, Obamacare's "Cadillac" tax
and current deportation policy that would place Biden in a bind. Would he break with his boss on administration policy or take positions with which elements in the Democratic Party will disagree?
Beginning a race for president with a deficit is a formidable challenge for anyone, even a sitting vice president. Nationally, CNN's most recent poll numbers have Clinton garnering 46% of the Democratic primary vote to Sanders' 27% and Biden's 16%. In some of the early states, that lead is as big. CNN reports that Clinton stands at 50% if the Nevada caucus
were held today, to Sanders' 34% and Biden's 12%. In South Carolina, she garners 49% of the vote to Biden's 24% and Sanders' 18%.
Despite some slippage, Clinton remains the front-runner. No veteran politician such as Biden will enter a race without the belief he can make a difference, and in Biden's case, win. For Biden to win and make a huge difference in the race, he will need a compelling reason to run and to run hard on everything from Obama's record in office to offering his own vision for the future.
Democrats will not tolerate a message that echoes the negative GOP's talking points on Clinton's lack of accomplishments or worse -- her decline in support due to the salacious allegations and leaks from the House Committee on Benghazi. The email saga has made her look vulnerable, but Biden too will come under withering attacks from the Republicans.
Biden also knows better than most of Clinton's competitors that she is a formidable campaigner and exceptionally well-qualified. If he enters the race, it won't be because he thinks she would be a flawed nominee, but because he believes that he simply has more to offer.
Biden has had a full political career, and Democrats like me respect him. He is more experienced than when he ran two losing presidential campaigns. While those runs are on the negative side of his scale, Biden has to feel that his two terms as vice president have given him experience and insight that uniquely qualify him for the top job. In short, personal political ambition has and should have likely receded in importance.
I have no window into another human's mind or soul, including Biden's. I can objectively measure the actions of those who oppose, and support, his running. Republicans would love a distraction from their train wreck in Congress, and the circus that Donald Trump has made of running for the most important office. The attacks will be brutal.
For the Democrats, too, it's the year of the non-politician, it seems. That is how some explain Sanders' popularity. However, Sanders is a seasoned politician. He has hit a nerve on economic inequality and the wealthy. It plays well in primaries, but many wonder if, by itself, it is too narrow to sustain and win a general election where independent voters must also be won over.
Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb are competent and qualified, but so far they aren't communicating the passion and message that Democratic voters seek. Biden knows his only real opponent is Clinton. And he has to know he will need to differentiate himself not just from her but also Obama.
It's a tough decision. With filing deadlines starting soon in several states that Biden needs to accrue delegates, he must decide soon. I believe if Biden chooses to run it will be because he's reassessed what he brings to the presidency that no one else does, and feels it's compelling enough to fuel and fight a grueling campaign.