Usually, when a modern sitting (or former) vice president of the United States seeks his party’s nomination for the presidency, he wins it. Of the past five vice presidents (Cheney, Gore, Quayle, Bush Sr., Mondale), three have sought the nomination for the presidency at one point or another. All three (Gore, Bush Sr., Mondale) have succeeded in that regard. It would not be out of the question, therefore, for current Vice President Joe Biden to run for the office from which he is one heartbeat away. However, this time is different. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is virtually unassailable in the Democratic primary polls. And yet, there is no doubt that Biden wants to become president, because he has run in the past. The real question is: does the vice president want the Oval Office enough to wage a long, tiresome war against Hillary Clinton and her army of supporters?
It is the worst-kept secret in Washington that Biden is at least testing the waters. Last January, Politico reported the following:
“Biden, according to a number of advisers and Democrats who have spoken to him in recent months, wants to run, or at least be well positioned to run, if and when he decides to pull the trigger.”
Several months later, in August, it became apparent that the vice president was not only talking about running; he was strategizing a run. An article in The Wall Street Journal stated that “political allies of Vice President Joe Biden have concluded that he can win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination-even if Hillary Clinton enters the contest…”
Now, what could Joe Biden do to best position himself against a Clinton candidacy? Going forward, the former secretary of state has three Achilles heels.
1. She isn’t in office.
Now, in the anti-Washington political climate, Mrs. Clinton’s distance from the center of power might seem to be an advantage. However, one of the most important image factors for candidates is “appearing Presidential”-something that Biden, deal-making in the Senate halls and taking trips to foreign countries, could wield effectively. If President Obama is still popular with the Democratic base during the primary season, the vice president will be the most obvious beneficiary, even though the President would probably not endorse either Biden or Clinton. So, when it comes to the “Presidential” image, the advantage goes to Joe Biden.
2. She won’t win Iowa in a landslide.
Iowa is one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest obstacles. Losing there in 2008 sent her campaign into crisis mode and propelled then-Senator Barack Obama into “challenger status” for the nomination. And Joe Biden is certainly interested in Iowa. He headlined Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry dinner this fall, and already has the personal campaign style that sells well with Iowans. Ben Jacobs of The Daily Beast wrote the following about Joe Biden and the first stop of the primaries:
“If Biden does decide to run, he’ll find the Hawkeye State to be favorable terrain. Iowa rewards retail politics, and while Biden may be somewhat gaffe prone, he’s far more comfortable in one-on-one interactions with caucusgoers than Hillary Clinton is.”
Additionally, Joe Biden does not even need to actually win Iowa in order to emerge strongly from the state. With Clinton’s poll numbers, fundraising ability, and overall favorability, anything less than totally victory in Iowa will reflect poorly on her campaign. Simply a strong showing in Iowa might be enough to legitimize Biden’s bid for the nomination.
3. She’s vulnerable in some areas.
A July 15-18 McClatchy-Marist poll exposed some chinks in Clinton’s armor. Yes, among Democrats, she received 63% of the support, and Biden won a mere 13%. However, 18% of Democrats are undecided as to who they will support in the primary. Specifically, 20% of Democratic men and 23% of Democrats who earn more than $50,000 annually are undecided. These are places where Biden can capitalize, in order to build an alternative coalition in the primaries.
In the end, it is still apparent that Joe Biden is an underdog in the Democratic primaries. Yet, in 2008, wasn’t then-Senator Barack Obama? Hillary Clinton may experience several obstacles in 2016, because many pundits have overestimated her strength. On the other hand, Biden’s ability to challenge Clinton is grossly underestimated. As was mentioned in the introduction: Joe Biden wants to be President of the United States. Why? Because he has run before! 2016 is the last election in which Biden could be a viable choice, and he probably knows this. But first, he must fight an uphill battle for the Democratic nomination. And he just might get it.