It was a late summer Saturday night in Washington, D.C., and Joe Biden was in fine form. Tanned, remarkably creaseless, wearing a trim tuxedo, smiling his radiant Joe Biden smile — the former 47th vice president of the United States took the stage with his wife Jill at the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner, where he was keynote speaker.
“My name is Joe Biden,” he said, needlessly introducing himself in what has become a standard, self-deprecating laugh line at the start of his speeches.
The cheers and applause that followed are also standard.
“Run, Joe, run!” a voice in crowd shouted.
“Run!” came another.
“We love you Joe!”
It was the second time Biden had addressed the HRC dinner, which has become a perennial favorite with politicians since Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to headline in 1997. Biden became something of a hero to the gay rights movement after openly stating his support for same-sex marriage in May 2012, forcing President Obama’s hand and leading him to make what was then considered a risky endorsement of the idea in the middle of a presidential election year.
It’s often like this for Biden when he speaks — the cheers, the cries, the sheer warmth — and he’s been getting a lot of it this fall, as he tours the country stumping for Democratic candidates and peddling his ideas for how to change America.
At a campaign kick-off event for New Jersey House candidate Mikie Sherrill, he was thronged by starry-eyed college students who said they see in him a rare authentic and trustworthy politician in a world of charlatans. Other times he is more quietly accepted as the longtime Washington hand he is, driving himself to a Century Foundation event where he will deliver a wonky speech and then slipping out quietly, snagging a bag of chips as he leaves.
But everywhere he goes, wherever he is, whatever the audience or the occasion, there’s always the same question: Is he going to run for president?
“I don’t think he’s playing games with people.”
Ask people in Biden world, from his core brain trust to his expanded world of advisers and former and current aides, and they will all tell you the same thing: Biden hasn’t decided yet. But he’ll decide soon enough: He’s given himself a deadline of January, which is traditionally when presidential candidates begin to announce their campaigns.
It’s too soon to even talk about it, says his former chief of staff Ron Klain.
“I don’t think he’s playing games with people,” says Jared Bernstein, his former chief economist. “I think his equivocation is real. I just think he hasn’t decided.”
“His words speak for themselves,” says Greg Schultz, who runs Biden’s political action committee.
“He’s been extremely consistent publicly and privately since at least the beginning of this year,” observed another close aide. “He hasn’t made a decision yet and end of the year is essentially his time frame for it.”
But nearly two years after the last election, with the clock ticking toward decision day, Biden has kept busy, cultivating exactly the kind of good will necessary to position himself for either one final bid for office — or for being one of the most consequential former vice presidents to leave the White House without becoming president.