Normally loquacious Biden hits the road but stays mum on 2016

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 03, 2015 1:35 PM

By John Whitesides

MIAMi, Fla (Reuters) - When you are Joe Biden, it's not easy being quiet.

While the normally loquacious vice president got the feel and taste for the campaign trail during a two-day trip to the political battleground of Florida, he really didn't want to talk about it.

On his first public trip since he began pondering whether to jump into the presidential race, Biden ignored reporters’ shouted questions about his plans and poked fun at the booming media interest in him.

He defended President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and backed policies to ease economic equality and help the middle class in speeches that would have fit nicely at a Democratic campaign rally.

Biden remained as garrulous as ever. He told Jewish leaders at a gathering on Thursday that he would speak for 10 minutes and then take questions.

He wrapped up more than 40 minutes later, drawing a laugh after promising several times he was making his "last point.""I know I've said that a few times," he said.Each step of the campaign-style trip, which also featured a Democratic fundraiser and concludes with a foreign policy speech in Atlanta on Thursday night, has been overshadowed by the overriding question: Will he or won't he launch a challenge to former Senate and Cabinet colleague Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden joked about his newfound celebrity status, acknowledging that the dozens of camera crews and reporters who greeted him at a Miami community college were not there for his planned talk on education initiatives.

"Their interest in community colleges impresses me," he joked to students, gesturing to the media mob. "I hope that's what they're going to write about."

The timing of the trip ramped up speculation about his intentions and opened up even his most innocent comments to new interpretations - a potentially dangerous trend for a man known for his verbal gaffes.

"People who aren't willing to risk failure never succeed," Biden said during the education speech, in what could be the motto for his deliberations on whether to run for the White House.

Earlier, on a tour of a biotech lab at the college, he told one of the students he preferred to watch rather than help with her experiment.

"I can see the press headline: 'Biden screws up experiment,'" he said.

Biden, 72, has been huddling with advisers for weeks to determine whether he will challenge Clinton, who has seen her favorability ratings plummet from the fallout over her use of a private email server while working as the nation's top diplomat.

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On a conference call with Democratic National Committee members last week, Biden said he was still trying to see if he had the energy and commitment for a campaign. He has been recovering from the death of his son, former Delaware attorney general Beau Biden, from cancer in May.

But his travel schedule is picking up as he nears a decision, with trips to Pittsburgh and an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s talk show scheduled next week.

His trip to south Florida, a Democratic enclave in one of the biggest presidential battleground states, included a fundraiser for the Democratic Senate campaign committee. But Biden didn't even address a possible run, or get asked about it, during that private event, participants said.

And he ignored a well wisher who had some advice for him after his education speech. "Run, Joe!" he yelled.

Biden didn't respond.

(Editing by Ross Colvin)