- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2014

It has been clear for some time that Joseph R. Biden is far behind Hillary Rodham Clinton among potential Democratic presidential candidates, but recent polling data suggest the vice president may not even be his party’s second choice.

Researchers say Mr. Biden — who, like Mrs. Clinton, has openly talked about a White House bid but hasn’t announced a decision — will struggle to gain traction with voters in early primary and caucus states such as Iowa.

A Suffolk University poll puts the vice president third in the Democratic field in Iowa, trailing Mrs. Clinton and progressive favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Mrs. Clinton is the favored candidate for 63 percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers, the poll shows. Mrs. Warren garnered 12 percent, and Mr. Biden came in third with 10 percent.

Political analysts say the survey, taken nearly two years before the Iowa caucuses, should be viewed with caution, but it does underscore the serious, perhaps fatal, flaws of a Biden campaign.

Chief among them are Mr. Biden’s unbreakable ties to President Obama, as well as the fact that one of the vice president’s key constituencies — blue-collar workers in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio — also are among Mrs. Clinton’s top demographics.

“What does Joe have that she doesn’t have?” said Samuel L. Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego. Mr. Popkin served as a consultant to the Bill Clinton and Al Gore presidential campaigns.

“All vice presidents have this horrendous problem looking like they’re nobody, because nobody has any idea of what they are and what they stand for. What is Joe Biden? Is he a cheerleader or a leader? Does he stand for something different than Obama?” Mr. Popkin said.

Mrs. Clinton has confirmed that she is pondering a White House bid. Despite her strong showing in all polls, Mr. Biden still may mount a challenge.

On Wednesday, he reiterated that he has not made a decision but said his White House ambitions won’t have any effect on his current duties.

“If I absolutely knew I wasn’t going to run or I absolutely knew I was, there’s nothing I’d do differently over the next seven, eight, 10 months,” Mr. Biden said in an interview with CBS News. “If I decide to run, believe me, [the president] will be the first guy I talk to. But that decision hasn’t been made, for real, and there’s plenty of time to make that.”

Mr. Obama continues to deflect questions about whether he would endorse Mr. Biden, Mrs. Clinton or any other Democrat in the 2016 primary race.

“I’ve got somebody who I think will go down as one of the finest vice presidents in history,” Mr. Obama told CBS News. “And I know we’ve got an extraordinary secretary of state who did great service for us and worked with me and Joe to help make the country safer. Whoever the Democratic standard-bearer is, is going to be continuing to focus on jobs, making sure that our kids are getting a great education, making sure that we’re rebuilding prosperity from the middle class out in this country.”

Clinton’s advantages

The backing of the sitting president surely would be a coup for Mr. Biden or Mrs. Clinton, but the former first lady has other advantages.

She has a political and fundraising machine operating at full capacity. The Ready for Hillary super PAC announced last week that it had pulled in $1.7 million in the first quarter of this year.

Other organizations also are working on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf, raising money, compiling mailing lists and taking other steps to lay the groundwork for what looks like an inevitable run.

Mr. Biden has no such structure in place.

Neither does Mrs. Warren, a first-term senator who has said she won’t run for president but remains the darling of liberals within the Democratic Party who have gravitated to her populist message.

The fact that Mrs. Warren is essentially tied with Mr. Biden in Iowa — the Suffolk poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points — doesn’t mean she is taking votes away from the vice president, analysts say, but does demonstrate that the vice president may be the odd man out in a race that could boil down to Mrs. Clinton versus a progressive challenger from the left.

Biden’s candidacy certainly lives in the shadow of Hillary Clinton’s front-runner status. And [Democratic] Iowa caucusgoers are a very progressive group. Elizabeth Warren has found a small but strong following in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at New York’s Marist College. “I think it’s not that [Mrs. Warren] is taking voters away from Biden as much as Biden lives in the cloud of Hillary Clinton. Warren and Biden can be very close in the numbers, but there are different people who are supporting each of them.”

Marist polling also has shown Mrs. Clinton to be miles ahead of her potential primary rivals.

The biggest hurdle for Mr. Biden is one that confronts any vice president with an eye on higher office: At best being seen by voters as a continuation of the current administration and at worst being viewed as an unoriginal candidate with no new ideas.

George H.W. Bush in 1988 became the first sitting vice president to win election to the presidency since Martin Van Buren more than 150 years earlier. Given how Mr. Obama’s tenure has gone, many say it will be next to impossible for Mr. Biden to separate himself from his boss in 2016.

He has been among the most vocal champions of the president’s health care reform law, for example. Mr. Biden also played a key role in overseeing Mr. Obama’s 2009 stimulus package.

Though Mrs. Clinton also is tied to Mr. Obama on foreign policy issues — and surely will be dogged by the Benghazi affair — she will be much better positioned to present new ideas and excite Democratic voters, Mr. Popkin said.

Biden is a working-class, blue-collar guy, but he’s also the vice president of a president with a very mixed record right now. He’s not well-known on his own yet. He can’t have an agenda of his own yet,” he said.

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