Vocal Biden backer joins super PAC urging VP to run in 2016

AP News
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Posted: Aug 03, 2015 8:21 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of Vice President Joe Biden's most vocal supporters joined the super PAC urging him to run for president Monday, as interest in Biden's political future spiked amid fresh signs that his aides are looking closely at a 2016 campaign.

Dick Harpootlian, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said he was writing a $10,000 check to the group Draft Biden, and was prepared to donate another $10,000 of his personal funds if asked. He said he was formally endorsing Draft Biden and would immediately begin raising money on its behalf.

A prominent figure in South Carolina politics, Harpootlian has been publicly encouraging Biden to run for president for years, but had kept his distance from Draft Biden out of concern that it lacked the support of Biden and his political team. The super PAC isn't affiliated with Biden and his aides have said they don't speak to the group's leaders.

But Harpootlian, in an interview with The Associated Press, said his calculus changed on Sunday when Josh Alcorn, the top political aide to Biden's late son and former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, announced he had joined Draft Biden. A known commodity in the Biden world, Alcorn raised money for Joe Biden's 2008 presidential campaign, and also served in the top fundraising role for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's vast political operation.

"The fact he's now in the project sends a message to me and others that this process is moving forward," said Harpootlian, whose state has an early primary in the presidential campain. "Does that mean Joe Biden is going to run? No. But it means at least some folks around him believe they need to get ready in case he does."

Biden's aides have previously sought to dispel the notion that Harpootlian has inside knowledge about Biden's political plans, despite his long track record of supporting the vice president. Hartpootlian said he hasn't spoken to Biden since shortly before his son died in May.

Still, Hartpootlian's decision comes as Biden's associates are resuming discussions about a 2016 presidential run after largely shelving such deliberations while his son was sick and dying earlier this year.

People close to Biden say he hasn't told his staff whether he will run or personally asked them to do any planning. But recent conversations between Biden's associates and Democratic donors and operatives have led to speculation that Biden will challenge front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party's nomination. Individuals close to Biden have started looking into the options that might be available to him if he were to run, such as potential staff in Iowa and the filing deadlines for entering the Democratic field, said the individuals, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations publicly.

The renewed focus on Biden comes amid some signs of weakness for Clinton, including declines in her favorability ratings among voters in recent polling. In another promising sign for Biden, longtime Biden supporters in key, early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire have said they're holding out hope he'll run again.

"I'm having conversations with personal friends, people I know that haven't committed. Trying to keep them uncommitted," said Iowa State Sen. Tony Bisignano, who endorsed Biden in 2008 and 1998. If Biden gets in the race, he added, "we'll be ready to start organizing."

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Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP