Joe Biden’s dream of the presidency is over, the end of an always elusive, always frustrating lifelong quest for the White House.
Biden was mentioned as a possible president almost from the day he came to the U.S. Senate as a 30-year-old whiz kid in 1973.
But some of the very skills that made him a respected lawmaker also helped doom his efforts. He was a deal maker, a compromiser, long-winded even by Senate standards and a backslapper in a chamber where such qualities were welcomed. It never translated on the campaign trail. And polls this year suggested a White House bid was unlikely, long before he made it official on Wednesday.
While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent. I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully, to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation. Vice President Joe Biden
At first, 1988 looked like a promising year, with no Democratic favorite after the party was crushed in the 1984 elections. Biden’s campaign, though, ended with a plagiarism scandal after he admitted to borrowing from a speech by a British politician.
He tried again in 2007, only to stumble out of the gate with a gaffe, calling Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Biden went nowhere, finishing just ahead of “uncommitted” in the Iowa caucus with 0.9 percent of the vote.
This time, there was opportunity among restive Democrats for a straight talker, with presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton facing questions of honesty and trustworthiness amid revelations that she had elected to use a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
But for Biden, who always seemed to speak with his heart on his sleeve, the May death of his eldest son, Beau, upended any political calculations as he and his family grieved their loss.
On Wednesday, standing in the White House Rose Garden just outside the Oval office, with his wife at one side and Obama at his other, the 72-year-old Biden acknowledged that although he and his family had reached the grieving point where the thought of Beau “brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes,” it was too late for a presidential campaign.
He would have started at an almost insurmountable disadvantage: no campaign staff, no campaign structure in early voting states and no fundraising dollars like Clinton and challenger Bernie Sanders have amassed. There were also looming questions about his candidacy, with he and Clinton appealing to the same Democratic Party constituency, and few polls suggesting that there was a hunger among voters for his candidacy.
He awoke Wednesday to find two new polls showing his already tepid support ebbing and Clinton pulling farther ahead since her strong performance in the first Democratic debate.
Biden had the support of just 15 percent of Democratic voters in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, down from 17 percent last month. And a Washington Post-ABC poll showed his support dropping from 21 percent in September to 16 percent. This while Clinton was climbing from 42 percent to 54 percent.
Biden made it clear that he wanted to get there, but conceded, “we’re out of time.”
Dick Harpootlian, a longtime Democratic activist in South Carolina and an ardent Biden supporter, said he was disappointed with Biden’s decision but understood his motivation.
“You respect the guy who doesn’t kick his family to the curb,” he said. “He’s an honorable man who did the honorable thing.”
Talk that Biden would run ramped up over the summer when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported that Beau in his final days battling brain cancer had urged his father to run for the White House. Biden pledged Wednesday to push for cancer research in his last 15 months as vice president. “If I could be anything, I would want it to be the president that ended cancer,” he said.
He’s the most honorable man I have ever met in politics. Dick Harpootlian, longtime Democratic activist in South Carolina and ardent Biden supporter
Talk of a Biden run, championed by an outside group, Draft Biden, reached a fever pitch in recent days when it appeared that Biden was criticizing Clinton while cementing his relationship with Obama and touting his expanded portfolio as a modern-day vice president.
His decision is good news for Clinton, who already was gaining and now does not have to worry that warm, genial Joe Biden will be on the trail inviting comparisons to her personal weaknesses.
His folksy, heart-on-the-sleeve approach would stand in sharp contrast to the former secretary of state’s oft-scripted style. And a long record of support and leadership on favorite Democratic issues such as gay rights, gun control and domestic violence has won him a passionate following. Polls suggest that with Biden not in the race, Clinton’s lead over Sanders will grow.
Biden did manage a swipe at Clinton as he called for an end to divisive politics, saying Democrats should not “look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition; they’re not our enemies. And for the sake of the country, we have to work together.” Clinton at last week’s debate had listed “Republicans” when asked which enemies she was proudest of.
And Biden did not signal that he would endorse any candidate but urged Democrats to run on Obama’s record, saying they’d “be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy.” Clinton in recent weeks has sought to put distance between herself and Obama, calling for a no-fly zone in Syria and opposing Obama’s ambitious Pacific Rim trade package.
In a statement, Clinton called the man she served with in the Senate “a good man and a great vice president” who helped save the auto industry, revived the economy and fights for higher wages, safer communities and a more peaceful world.
“It’s a record to be proud of, defend, and build on,” she said. “And I am confident that history isn’t finished with Joe Biden. . . . There is more work to do. And if I know Joe, he will always be on the front lines, always fighting for all of us.”
Key dates in Joe Biden’s life and career
1966: Marries his first wife, Nelia. They have a daughter and two sons.
1972: Elected to Senate at age 29 – turning the minimum age of 30 just in time be sworn in.
1972: His wife and daughter are killed in a car crash.
1977: Marries Jill.
1987: Runs for Democratic presidential nomination. Drops out when caught plagiarizing a British politician.
February 1988: Is given the last rites of the Catholic church after suffering a brain aneurysm. Surgery saved his life.
2008: Drops second bid for Democratic presidential nomination after getting less than 1 percent in Iowa precinct caucuses.
November 2008: Elected the 47th vice president as Barack Obama’s running mate.
May 30, 2015: His son Beau dies of cancer.
Oct. 21, 2015: Announces he will not seek the Democratic nomination
CORRECTION: This version corrects date of Biden announcement in last line of fact box