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Biden will never be able to co-opt that kind of message, even against former colleagues, possibly Clinton. Every preliminary poll of the 2016 Democratic field shows the outgoing secretary of State far ahead of the pack if she wants to run again.
Governors comprise much of the rest of the field, such as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo or Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Democrats also mention Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Mark Warner of Virginia as potential national candidates. But their Senate tenure represents one-ninth of Biden’s time there.
“It’s in everyone’s interest for Biden to keep floating his name now,” one seasoned national Democratic operative said. “It averts the spotlight from [Clinton], plus it keeps him relevant.”
In any permutation of the 2016 field, Biden plays the consummate Washington insider running on experience. And with experience comes age.
Biden’s detractors cite that as one reason the 70-year-old might avoid another national campaign. He would be the same age as Dole when he accepted his party’s nomination in 1996.
There’s also his very chummy personality and his proclivity to speak off the cuff — something that’s come to be known as the gaffe factor — two traits that are seen as impediments for Biden in 2016.
Yet, those traits are what make Biden excel at retail politiking, a skill he honed over the years in his small home state.
“A sizeable population actually meets you,” said J.J. Balaban, a Democratic consultant who works in Delaware. “You have to develop a certain amount of retail politics skills. In Pennsylvania and other mega-states, you can be a mass media candidate.”
Biden built on that reputation during the presidential campaign, leading rally after rally focused on blue-collar voters.
In other ways, Democrats say Biden has evolved since he moved to Observatory Circle. It’s another reason why a 2016 Biden campaign would be completely different from his failed 1988 and 2008 White House bids.
“They’re going to see him as the vice president of the United States, which is a position that oddly enough straddles both worlds,”said Luis Navarro, Biden’s campaign manager in 2008.
In his first attempt, Biden struggled to balance his national campaign with his role as Judiciary chairman during Robert L. Bork’s Supreme Court hearings. He dropped out before the Iowa caucuses.
In 2008, Biden — then Senate Foreign Relations chairman — billed himself as the only candidate with a plan for the war in Iraq. He received less than 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses and withdrew from the race.
In both cases, his home base of Delaware proved to be a problem. He struggled to raise money from the First State, while Obama and Clinton brought in big bucks from their respective national donor bases.
Delaware did not provide Biden much practice for tough campaigns, either. He only had one competitive contest out of seven senate elections: He won his first race in 1976 with 51 percent.
After 2008 and 2012, he knows what it’s like to be in a tough race. He also knows what it’s like to be a GOP target and a regular punch line.