- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2015

Vice President Joseph R. Biden got some extra room to mull his political future Monday with CNN’s announcement that he would be invited to join the first Democratic presidential primary debate if he decides to get into the race as late as the day of the event.

The network, which will host the Oct. 13 debate in Las Vegas, said Mr. Biden’s poll numbers have pre-qualified him under criteria that extend an invitation to any candidate garnering an average of at least 1 percent in recent national polls.

The rules would apply to anyone, not just Mr. Biden, and every declared candidate for the Democratic nomination is qualified to participate in the debate at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel.

Still, CNN’s focus on Mr. Biden underscored the widespread interest in his presidential ambitions and the hunger for an alternative to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who remains the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to questions about CNN reserving a spot for Mr. Biden on the debate stage, nor did the Draft Biden 2016 committee.

Mr. Biden has publicly struggled with his decision to run, saying he doesn’t know whether “my whole heart” is in it after the death of his son, Beau Biden, in May from brain cancer. Beau Biden reportedly urged his father from his deathbed to make a third White House run.

In an interview published last week by America magazine, Mr. Biden said he isn’t worried about upcoming dates on the political calendar that will soon make a run exceedingly difficult. His only concern is whether his family is ready for the demands of a presidential campaign, he said.

“I’ve known almost every person that’s run for president since I’ve been 29 years old, and it all gets down to personal considerations, because you have no right as an individual to decide to run,” he told the magazine. “Your whole family is implicated. Your whole family is engaged. So for us, it’s a family decision.”

Mr. Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, has said she is on board if he decides to run.

The vice president, who is being prodded to run by Democrats deeply concerned about the weakness of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy, is expected to announce his plans next month.

The excitement about a Biden run has blossomed as Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has stumbled over mounting questions about her exclusive use of a private email account for official business as secretary of state, including an FBI investigation into her handling of classified material that conceivably could lead to criminal charges.

The email scandal has contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s rapid fall in the polls, with more than half of Americans saying they don’t trust her. At the same time, Mr. Biden climbed into third place in most surveys, despite his hesitation to throw his hat into the ring.

A recent Fox News poll showed that Mrs. Clinton’s favorability rating plummeted to a record low 38 percent. Mr. Biden topped the field of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates with a 49 percent favorability score, accordion to the poll.

Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the difficulty she had responding to the email scandal and blamed Republicans for creating the controversy.

“It’s like a drip, drip, drip, and that’s why I said that there’s only so much that I can control,” she said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I can’t predict to you what the Republicans will come up with, what kind of charges or claims they might make. I can only do the best I can to try to respond.”

The Las Vegas debate would be the first of six sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. The DNC and its chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, have come under fire for strictly controlling and limiting the number of debates, a move that critics say is designed to help Mrs. Clinton.

So far, every candidate for the Democratic nomination — Mrs. Clinton, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia — has been invited.

The candidates had to average at least 1 percent in three polls recognized by CNN from Aug. 1 to Oct. 10 to qualify for a debate invitation.

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