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Biden's best option is to wait

As speculation grows that Vice President Joe Biden may yet enter the 2016 presidential race, a flawed assumption argues that he can't wait much longer to decide.

It's the notion that he has to act soon to raise money and field organization to give himself any chance to win his party's nomination against the huge advantage in both categories already amassed by frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

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The speculation goes on mostly in light of the current problem Ms. Clinton has encountered: the federal investigations into her private email server and whether by using it to conduct State Department business she violated any security regulations.

Panic may not have broken out in the Clinton camp, but Biden supporters profess to see a path for their man to the nomination in her slipping public-opinion poll numbers, particularly regarding her trustworthiness and likeability.

But, realistically, a Biden candidacy makes sense right now only under the expectation that Hillary Clinton's campaign will become unglued or seriously wounded for these or other reasons. Too much is at stake for Mr. Biden in terms of his admired place in the Democratic Party and in history for him to plunge in now rather than wait longer to see what happens with her campaign.

Running now would severely put Mr. Biden's reputation at risk as a loyal party man who has served as a willing and able helpmate to President Obama for more than six years. Jumping in on Hillary now would alienate millions of Democratic women geared up to put the first female president in the Oval Office.

In 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson was expected to seek re-election and Sen. Eugene McCarthy demonstrated LBJ's vulnerability in the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Robert Kennedy suddenly got into the race, earning the ire of McCarthy's supporters. They branded him as "ruthless" and refused to join him.

Were Mr. Biden to bide his time a while longer and the Clinton campaign did somehow implode over the email controversy or some other development, he could enter the race then as the obvious inheritor of the Clinton organization and money, against outsider Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The first nationally televised Democratic candidates' debate is not until Oct. 13, hosted by CNN in Nevada, which holds the second 2016 primary on Feb. 20, 2016. But Mr. Biden could easily skip that and others late this year and still meet the Democratic calendar of filing deadlines for the bulk of 2016 state primaries and caucuses.

The calendar provides plenty of time for Mr. Biden to qualify, with or without Hillary Clinton in the race. As of now, only 13 states require filing before the end of this year. These include New Hampshire, the first state primary, whose filing deadline is Nov. 27 for the election held Feb. 7, 2016, and South Carolina whose filing deadline is Dec.7 for its primary on Feb. 27, 2016.

Consequently, Mr. Biden still has four months or more to hold off and see how circumstances play out, rather than blindly rolling the dice and hoping a clearer path to the Democratic nomination may materialize. This way, his place in the party and the country wouldn't be diminished, and his lifetime record and reputation in politics as a selfless public servant who has endured personal and public knocks along the way would remain intact.

Meanwhile, Mr. Biden can continue on the path he has said all along he would follow -- being "the best vice president I can be" as the surest way to prepare for the presidency itself. President Obama for his part is saved for now from choosing between his vice president and his former secretary of state.

It should be noted, though, that White House press secretary Josh Earnest went out his way the other day to recall Obama's earlier statement that "the smartest decision that he had ever made in politics" was in choosing Biden as his 2008 running mate.

Whatever Mr. Biden decides, he will remain among the most visible and hard-working of the 47 Americans who have occupied the office. It's understandable, after that record and preparation, that he would ask himself the logical question about his future: Why not me?

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist, Biden biographer and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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