How Biden can win in 2016

The slow summer political season is inevitably leading to speculation about what may happen in next year's congressional elections, on which President Barack Obama's prospects for his final two years in the Oval Office may rest. It's widely assumed that if he doesn't somehow gain control of Congress in 2014, he'll wind up with a host of unrealized legislative ambitions,

Not content with rehashing that story, the political community is advancing the speculation mill another two years to the 2016 presidential race, when Mr. Obama will watch leading fellow Democrats contest to replace him as the party's nominee.


That long-range crystal-balling was ignited the other day by news that Vice President Joe Biden will be among the speakers at Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's steak fry later this month. It's the traditional kickoff for the party's White House hopefuls to court the state's Democratic voters in 2016's first nominating caucuses.

The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Biden, who at 70 still entertains presidential aspirations, is waiting to see whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides to run. The broad assumption is that he will step aside if she does. Nevertheless, his presence at the Harkin steak fry is taken as a signal that he may run regardless of Ms. Clinton's plans.


Eagerly jumping on the speculation was Karl Rove, the Republican political guru who gave the country George W. Bush, and insisted to the final hour that Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama in 2012. Obviously interested in stirring the pot by encouraging Democratic competition, Mr. Rove told Fox News he thinks Mr. Biden "is in, regardless" of what Hillary Clinton decides.

"There's no disadvantage to them to going to Iowa and these early states," Mr. Rove said, referring to presidential candidates, "and (starting) to poke around and build relationships and flesh out their messages."

He added: "I'm thinking that maybe the political system is starting to say, 'President Obama, you are in our second term and you are going to become a lame duck sometime, and it looks like it might be sooner rather than later.' "

The first part certainly is good political advice, even coming from the enemy camp. The second part sounds like a classic Rove tactic, planting the seed that Mr. Obama is already finished as an effective president. In doing so, Mr. Rove suggests that the Republicans can make hay continuing to oppose him, and weaken the chances of whatever Democrat is nominated in 2016.

But Mr. Rove's unsolicited advice about starting to build an organization in Iowa and other early delegate-selecting primary and caucus states isn't likely to be followed by Mr. Biden now. As vice president, his best behavior will be to continue carrying out his elected responsibility to do all he can to advance President Obama's agenda, and let politics take its course.

The more effective he remains through the remainder of his own vice presidency, which includes carrying the political flag for the president and their party, the better his chances for the 2016 presidential nomination will be, whatever Hillary Clinton eventually decides.

In her clear position as the prospective frontrunner for the nomination, there is no need for her to declare her intentions for quite a while yet. There are enough loyal survivors of 2008 Hilllaryland to keep the flame alive without the need to expose her as a target of the Republican opposition.

As for Mr. Biden's decision, he must weigh not only his age -- he would be 73 as a candidate in 2016 -- and the cartoon image of him as loose cannon repeatedly drawn by his foes, as well as the challenge of facing a formidable candidate to be the nation's first woman president. He will continue to do what he's doing -- being vice president and biding his time -- as the best course for him. That includes speaking at Tom Harkin's steak fry in Iowa -- on behalf of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, not his own uncertain future.


As a man who obviously is thoroughly enjoying being vice president and is well liked in his party for how he's doing it, Joe Biden he could do worse than seeking a third term on a Hillary Clinton ticket in 2016, if it were to come to that.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is