- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s team is putting out the word that he is leaning in favor of joining the presidential race next month, according to a prominent Democratic fundraiser.

The veep’s entrance would dramatically shake up the Democratic contest, confronting front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton with a formidable opponent who is equally well-known across the country and poised to tap a network of major donors.

“They have given increasingly strong signals that Biden is going to throw his hat in the ring,” said New York businessman Jon Cooper, a top bundler for President Obama’s 2012 campaign who has been testing the waters with fellow bundlers for a Biden run.

“I’m as confident as I can be that he will be entering the race,” he said.

Mr. Biden had been noncommittal about his plans for next year, though he never ruled out another run for president.

But after the death of his eldest son, Beau Biden, on May 30 after a battle with brain cancer, the vice president began to send the clearest signals yet that he intended to seek the top job. In a telling move, he advanced the time frame for announcing his plans from the end of summer to early August.

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Mr. Biden, 72, had been encouraged to make a third run for the presidency by both of his sons, Beau and Hunter Biden, according to a Wall Street Journal report last week.

He also is getting encouragement from Democratic moneymen.

Mr. Cooper said he found a receptive audience when surveying the network of Democratic bundlers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, with about 30 percent pledging support for Mr. Biden if he enters the race.

He said many of Mr. Obama’s bundlers, including himself, couldn’t get excited about Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, with some resigned to sitting out the presidential race next year and others eagerly searching for an alternative candidate who inspires them.

Mr. Biden would fit the bill easily, he said.

“It was almost a diametrically opposed reaction than to Hillary. With Hillary, no excitement, they couldn’t get enthusiastic about her for whatever reason,” said Mr. Cooper. “But when I mentioned that maybe Biden was going to enter the race, there was palpable excitement.

“They are champing at the bit to raise money for Biden,” he said.

The lack of enthusiasm among Mr. Obama’s fundraisers didn’t slow down Mrs. Clinton in the money race.

Her team announced Wednesday a quarterly fundraising total that is on track to top $45 million, which would set a record for the most money raised by any party’s presidential candidate in the first three months of a campaign.

The huge tally cemented Mrs. Clinton’s standing as the party’s prohibitive favorite.

John Podesta, the national chairman of the Clinton campaign, noted that 91 percent of the donations were for $100 or less. The figure was intended to demonstrate grass-roots support for Mrs. Clinton and beat back criticism that she hasn’t energized the party base.

William Pierce, executive director of an organization working to draft Mr. Biden for the race, also said he has been reassured that the vice president is preparing to challenge Mrs. Clinton for the nomination.

“We have been talking to a lot of people in Biden’s circle and they say they believe he is going to run,” said Mr. Pierce, though he stressed that he does not coordinate with Mr. Biden or his close advisers.

He said it isn’t too late for Mr. Biden to launch a campaign because his national profile gives him a leg up on the other contenders, such as Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who need to spend time and money introducing themselves to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond.

“We’ve got people on the ground right now in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said. “We’ve been able to draw more people at our events than some Republican candidates. So the organization is ready and willing of the vice president. We’re just waiting for him to make the announcement.”

He also discounted polls showing Mr. Biden far behind Mrs. Clinton.

“That’s gong to change a lot when and if he does get in the race,” Mr. Pierce said.

Mrs. Clinton dwarfed the competition with 58 percent among Democratic voters nationwide in a CNN poll released Wednesday.

Mr. Biden finished a distant second in the poll, with 17 percent, followed by Mr. Sanders with 15 percent and the other contenders with 1 percent or less.

“Who doesn’t like Joe Biden?” said Mr. Cooper, the bundler. “He connects with the middle class and the regular folks, and he’s got family values and the love of family. He’s a wonderful guy.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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