By Jeff Mason
ANAHEIM, Calif. (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's journey to a decision on whether to run for president is taking him this week to California, Michigan, and Ohio -- critical states for fundraising and electoral recognition if he decides to jump in the race.
The locations are not a coincidence, even though the events he is attending are officially sanctioned by the White House.
They suggest the vice president is keeping up a campaign-in-waiting as he deliberates whether to take on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose frontrunner status for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination has been tarnished by her handling of an email controversy.
So far, in public and in private, Biden continues to give mixed signals.
Last week he gave an emotional interview in New York to Stephen Colbert on CBS's "Late Show," in which he suggested he was not ready to give the required 110 percent to a campaign while continuing to grieve for his son Beau, who recently died.
On the same trip, however, he met with a top fundraiser, who has pledged support to Clinton.
"I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do. I think he’s struggling with it," said a close friend of Biden's who met with him a couple times in the last week and requested anonymity.
Biden behaved very much like a candidate on Tuesday night, discarding prepared remarks at an event with Latinos at his official residence in favor of a diatribe against Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner whose comments on immigration have roiled Hispanics, an important Democratic constituency.
He continued that trend on Wednesday, when, at a solar power event in Anaheim, he referenced the upcoming debate between Republican presidential candidates and predicted they would deny climate change.
"They'd probably deny gravity as well," he said.
Biden is not only watching Republicans. The former senator, who has competed for the Democratic nomination unsuccessfully two times, is watching Clinton's rocky performance and weighing his options.
"He wants there to be a Democratic president. He’s worried about where she’s at," the friend said.
Biden's official travel is sending signals, too. California has a wealthy cache of Democratic fundraisers whose support he would need for a run. Michigan and Ohio are both political swing states that historically help decide the outcome of most presidential elections.
In Anaheim and Los Angeles on Wednesday he is touting solar energy and U.S.-China relations. In Detroit on Thursday he will talk about transportation and in Columbus Biden will rail against sexual assault.
For more on the 2016 presidential race, see the Reuters blog, “Tales from the Trail” (http://blogs.reuters.com/talesfromthetrail/).
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Diane Craft)