Popular Biden ponders a presidential bid as Hillary loses ground to her rivals
Published 12/08/2015 | 02:30
As he huddles with his family in South Carolina this week, US Vice-President Joe Biden will be asking himself one pertinent question about a possible bid for the White House: 'If not me, who?'
With Hillary Clinton slipping in polls everywhere and the self-inflicted wounds of her State Department emails now the subject of an FBI investigation, there is suddenly a dreaded scenario opening up for Democrats who thought her home and hosed just a few months ago: What if her campaign falls apart?
It is not as if it hasn't happened before. In 2008 she was the overwhelming favourite until an inspirational figure called Barack Obama emerged and defeated her with consummate ease. Horrendous infighting and a lack of leadership doomed the SS Hillary the last time. Could the ship founder again?
Hillary appears to have similar problems with her campaign this time, which begs the question: Has the Clinton brand passed its sell-by date in American politics?
She has gone from leading major Republicans by 10 points, on average, to falling behind Jeb Bush by one point. While any campaign will endure such ups and downs, the pattern going back to 2008 and the looming email revelations are casting serious doubt.
Which is where Joe Biden thinks he can come in.
There is no Obama running in this field. Bernie Sanders, Hillary's main opponent, is the Democrats' equivalent of Labour's Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, but without the breadth of support. He will top out at 30pc max with the ultra-liberal wing of the party.
Irish-American Governor Martin O'Malley has yet to catch fire, as has former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. Both have been hurt by the Democratic National Committee decision, headed by Hillary loyalists, to push debates back to October and limit them in number.Debates are their only chance.
Carly Fiorina's side saw her numbers jump from 1pc to 8pc after the first Republican TV debate. O'Malley, in particular, needed such an opportunity much earlier.
So Biden sees the opportunity; if he jumps in now he becomes the obvious heir apparent if Hillary stumbles badly.
At 73 he looks a decade younger, has immense popularity among the rank and file, who think of him as 'Uncle Joe', and has a resumé to match Clinton - which very few contenders can claim.
Joseph Finnegan Biden, with ancestors from Mayo and Louth, is an Irish politician of the old school; glad-hander, raconteur, always the last to leave the room, but with an acute political brain. Above all, he is authentic in a year when the electorate seems to be craving straight talk - even when it is from the motormouth of Donald Trump.
There is no love lost with the Clintons and Biden was upset last year when Obama appeared to embrace Hillary as his successor, ignoring his Vice-President.
'New York Times' columnist Maureen Dowd, who broke the Joe Biden for president story, cited the recent death of Joe's son Beau as a turning point for the VP.
Beau, Attorney General for Delaware and a rising politician, died from brain cancer, but Dowd said that, literally on his deathbed, he urged his father to run.
Biden won enormous sympathy over his son's death and on how he handled the aftermath, but sympathy won't get you too far in a presidential race and Joe has run for nomination and failed before on two occasions.
Now is his last chance and close friends confess even they are unsure how he will decide.
His wife Jill is his rock and confidante and the extended Biden family are all together this week to discuss the momentous decision.
Biden lost his first wife and infant daughter in a tragic car crash in 1972, right after he was elected to the US Senate.
His wife and college sweetheart Neilia and their 13-month-old daughter Naomi were killed in that car accident on their way to buy a Christmas tree. His sons Beau and Hunter, aged four and three respectively, were badly injured.
Biden told 'People Magazine' he underwent a crisis of faith as he left the US Capitol building that night.
"I remember looking up and saying, 'God' as if I was talking to God myself, 'You can't be good, how can you be good?''' Biden said.
He was sworn in at Beau's bedside, the same son he would hold in his arms as he died of brain cancer earlier this year.
Few humans, let alone politicians, have been tested like Joe Biden has, so running for president will not seem like a mountain to climb for him.
Obama chose him for his foreign policy ability and his connection to Irish and other ethnic Catholics in key states such as Ohio and his birth state of Pennsylvania.
Every summer Biden hosts a press picnic at his spacious home in the Naval Observatory grounds in Washington. His main room in the house is dominated by a picture of JFK and Biden is, as always, an affable host.
At one recent occasion I attended he rang my wife's 90-year-old aunt, Nora Murphy from Kerry, now living in Long Island, because it was her birthday.
He chatted for five minutes about Ireland and his roots there and included gems about his aunt's Black and Tan stories and how much he admires Wolfe Tone as a political leader.
Later in the day, armed with a water gun and wearing shorts and a T shirt, he was chasing the kids of press members about his garden like an affectionate grandpop.
He has that incredible personal touch which makes him one of the most popular figures with the press - unlike Hillary who is regarded as an Ice Queen in press encounters, despite her best attempts.
If he decides to run, suddenly we have a race for the Democratic nomination, something very few would have predicted just a few weeks ago.
It would also add some drama to the Democratic side at a time when Donald Trump and his antics are turning the Republican nomination into a daily matinee of the Barnum and Bailey circus show.