Veteran pollster James Zogsby declared Sunday that the “Biden Watch” has begun — the stretch of time where we’ll see whether or not Vice President Joe Biden will run for president in 2016.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton 2016 has already gained some incredible momentum. Even former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich admits that Clinton looks like an impressive candidate, stating that if she runs the GOP will be “incapable of competing.”
So in this contest, who is more likely to be the Democratic nominee in 2016? We’ll make two assumptions: the first being that neither candidate somehow makes a definitive choice not to run before 2016. The second being that Obama remains a relatively popular sitting president by the end of his second term. (If he tanks, any hope for Biden is clearly lost and Clinton either wins by default or is beaten by a Democrat formally unaffiliated with the White House.)
Zogsby rates Biden’s chances as “good to very good,” citing Clinton's ongoing troubles with Benghazi and, (following revelations of a near-stroke and head injury,) her health. Zogsby cites Biden’s resume (including six terms in the Senate and a stint as the chair of major committees, including Foreign Affairs and Judiciary), as well as the lack of “the usual elitism associated with big liberal Democrats” as major assets for his campaign. Biden, Zogsby says, is also an eloquent speaker, the “most prepared” during the 2008 debates and a clear victor against VP contender Paul Ryan. Salon’s Steve Kornacki argues that in 2008, Biden “was just the latest Capitol Hill lifer whose pleadings about the value of experience fell on deaf ears.” But as a sitting vice president, “he’d be formidable."
Both Zogsby and Kornacki underestimate Clinton’s considerable advantages, however. Biden has hurdles to overcome: he dropped out in 2008 after getting less than 1% of the vote in the 2008 Iowa caucus. Clinton enjoyed advantages then (including 0% of the public not recognizing her name) and retains them now; a November poll showed that 61% of Florida Democrats would pick Clinton as the 2016 Democratic nominee for president, opposed to a mere 14% for Biden. That same poll found that both, however, enjoy high margins of support: Clinton enjoys an 82% favorability rating, while Biden lags slightly behind at 74%.
Biden’s oratory skills didn’t let him pull ahead in the polls in 2008, despite favorable reception from the media and other politicians. Meanwhile, Clinton is even more popular than in 2008, and her unfavorable ratings are the lowest since 1999 at just 29% — somewhere around a 20% decrease from 2008. Her favorability ratings will no doubt drop during the 2016 election season, but so will Biden’s.
Let’s face it: old white men are not in vogue right now, and that trend continues with every passing year. Obama was the first black president. It makes sense for Democrats to follow up by nominating a woman. The GOP’s most likely minority candidate is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising Latino star who will be just 45 in 2016. That would make him the third youngest sitting president. In this scenario it would be hard to imagine the elderly, Caucasian Biden presenting a favorable contrast. If the GOP nominates another white guy – such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the most popular Republicans in the country – it will also make sense to emphasize a contrast by running a popular female candidate. Finally, if the GOP finds a smart, skilled female candidate for president, running a man would be suicide.
In the demographics game, Biden just can’t win.
The Huffington Post's Ben Arnon notes that Obama owes a heavy debt to the Clintons as well, including Bill Clinton’s energizing DNC speech and subsequent stumping on the campaign trail. He adds, “Hillary has dutifully served in the president’s administration despite being devastated by her loss to Obama.”
With all their shared history it seems seriously unlikely that an outbound President Obama would endorse one candidate over the other; Biden would clearly need such an endorsement to overcome Clinton’s popularity. Faced with this, Biden may not want to risk probable defeat as the end note of his political history.
Most likely scenario: Barring severe health issues emerging for Clinton or an unpredicted change in the political environment resulting in the devastation of Clinton’s reputation, Biden will let the vice presidency remain an impressive cap to an impressive career. There are perks to simply living as an elder statesman.