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article imageGrieving in public eye, a conflicted Biden mulls 2016

By Michael Mathes (AFP)     Sep 11, 2015 in World

More than any other modern American politician, Joe Biden is living out his grief in the public spotlight, even as the vice president struggles privately over whether to run for the White House.

Mourning over the loss of his son Beau who succumbed to cancer in May, the normally gregarious, grinning and gaffe-prone vice president has been openly questioning whether he and his family have the emotional fuel to mount a third presidential campaign.

Experts and former colleagues in Congress say Biden's authenticity grows with every display of anguish and acknowledgment of family suffering.

Biden's deepest public exploration of his grief came during a compelling Thursday interview with late-night TV host Stephen Colbert, exhibiting a sense of character that voters would unquestionably embrace in today's age of prepared statements, fake smiles and over-choreographed media events.

His popularity has risen steadily this summer, and whispers about a possible Biden challenge to Democratic frontrunner and friend Hillary Clinton quickly grew to an international buzz.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden (R) and his son Beau acknowledge the crowd during the...
Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden (R) and his son Beau acknowledge the crowd during the Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, in August 2008
Paul J. Richards, AFP/File

Politically, the green lights appear to be on. Clinton is slipping in the polls, her campaign marred by a lingering scandal over her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

People close to Biden say he is increasingly leaning towards a run, US media report.

He has been testing the waters, recently in battleground state Florida where a somber Biden said his family's "emotional energy" was the primary factor, not whether he could raise funds or put together a campaign team.

Tragedy has visited Biden before. His first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972.

"Joe's agonizing is real," US congressman Bill Pascrell, a Biden friend since the late 1970s, told AFP.

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden speak at the end of the Vital Voices Global Awards ceremony at the Ken...
Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden speak at the end of the Vital Voices Global Awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in April 2013
Nicholas Kamm, AFP/File

Of the vice president's appearance with Colbert, "you had to reach out through the screen to console him," Pascrell added.

"This is not theater. This is what he's really grappling with, and that's... more important than what the polls are saying and more important than what other people want him to do."

Biden told CBS "Late Show" host Colbert that no one should run for president unless "they can look at the folks out there and say, 'I promise you have my whole heart, my whole soul, energy, and my passion to do this.'

"And I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there," he said.

Biden, 72, has emerged as the most human of the politicos on the national stage.

His authenticity and humility are "important factors," and his likeability is simply something "that Clinton doesn't have," said political science professor Timothy Hagle of the University of Iowa.

US Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill wave to the press upon their arrival at the Guatemalan...
US Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill wave to the press upon their arrival at the Guatemalan Air Force base, in Guatemala City, in March 2015
Johan Ordonez, AFP/File

Biden's relatability would prove immensely valuable on the campaign trail. And with Clinton struggling, "there are probably some Democratic donors and supporters thinking he should get in because they see him as a stronger candidate that Hillary Clinton," Hagle said.

"There is great affection for him universally on our side of the aisle," said a US House Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But there's skepticism about whether or not he is up to this."

Pascrell concurred.

Biden has shown remarkable strength and in the face of his suffering, and compassion for others in their grief, but while those qualities would endear a candidate like Biden to voters, "that doesn't make you ready to be president," Pascrell said.

Colbert, who himself lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash when he was 10, practically pleaded with Biden to run, saying "your example of suffering and service is something that would be sorely missed in the race."

Meanwhile the sand sifts through the political hourglass, with experts debating whether it is too late for Biden to mount a viable campaign.

Biden has said he would decide by summer's end, while others point to early October. The first Democratic Party primary debate is October 13.

Delaying further could be an option, especially if Clinton loses more ground to her current main challenger, liberal Senator Bernie Sanders.

"If Clinton goes into free fall, Biden could be seen as the person to come in and pick up that slack," Hagle said.

The vice president is already being touted as a potential game-changer for 2016.

After Biden's Thursday interview aired, former White House assistant budget director Kenneth Baer tweeted: "The more Biden opens up, the more appealing as a candidate he becomes."

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