Even as President Obama on Monday grasped the reins of power for another four years, the man who would be his successor — Vice President Joseph R. Biden — was never far away.
Over the weekend he even seemed to jump the gun, telling the audience at the State Society of Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses, that "I'm proud to be the president of the United States." He quickly corrected himself, but it only added to speculation he's got his eye on a promotion to the top job.
With Mr. Obama already a lame duck, the political establishment has begun to look to 2016, and Mr. Biden is giving all the right signs of interest in a campaign.
On Sunday at an inauguration banquet, Mr. Obama shied away from a political message, but Mr. Biden dived in, ticking off their first-term accomplishments, including health care, gay rights and two Supreme Court justices, and vowed they were "just getting started."
"In the weeks and months ahead, we're going to reduce gun violence here in America. We're going to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And we're going to put this nation's economy on a sustainable path to the future," he said.
Mr. Obama lavished praise on Mr. Biden, saying picking him as running mate in 2008 "was absolutely correct — absolutely spot on."
"I could not have a better partner than Joe Biden," he said.
It's a far cry from talk during last year's campaign, when some Democrats urged Mr. Obama to kick Mr. Biden off the ticket.
On Monday, the vice president seemed to be in campaign training, hamming it up during the inaugural parade, doling out thumbs-up to those lining the route and jogging from one side of the street to the other to shake hands.
Before he was Mr. Obama's chief cheerleader, Mr. Biden was a senator from Delaware for 26 years, but he's no stranger to presidential runs, either. His 1988 bid collapsed amid charges of plagiarism, and his 2008 campaign couldn't gain traction amid the heavyweight battle between then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama.
But he's made the most of his four years as vice president, including heading up oversight of the $833 billion stimulus and, more recently, running the gun violence task force that laid the groundwork for the administration's new gun control push.
Usually, being vice president would give him a leg up in a Democratic primary, but Mrs. Clinton's own experience in 2008, not to mention her husband's successful campaigns in 1992 and 1996, could negate that, should she try another run.
The Republican side is shaping up to be full of heavyweights as well, with a host of governors, senators and 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan all expected to take a look at the race.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a two-time candidate for president, said Mr. Biden's job for now is to back Mr. Obama. As for the future, he said, there will be plenty of competition.
"A lot of people have plans, but four years is an eternity in politics, as you know," he said.
Democratic strategist Christy Setzer, president of New Heights Communications, said Mr. Biden may not be able to keep the coalition of young voters Mr. Obama put together, but he "has a great shot of winning back blue-collar, rural Democrats in places like West Virginia that our party's been hemorrhaging for years."
For now, though, he's got to mind his day job.
"At the end of the day, Biden's chances are inextricably tied to Obama's approval ratings in a way that Clinton's aren't as much. If Americans are feeling hopeful about Obama's second term, they'll be warm to a Biden presidency," she said.
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