WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden is sending out an unmistakable "forget-me-not" plea for 2016, brushing past signs of a Hillary Rodham Clinton resurgence with fresh and direct suggestions he could be on the verge of entering the presidential race.
The vice president's political team broke its months-long silence on the subject with a letter circulated by one of Biden's closest friends and top advisers. In the letter, though Biden is still officially undecided, former Sen. Ted Kaufman describes a "campaign from the heart" that Biden would wage and says a decision isn't far off.
"If he decides to run, we will need each and every one of you — yesterday," Kaufman says temptingly, alluding to the breakneck speed at which Biden would have to ramp up a campaign.
To its recipients — Biden's former Senate, White House and campaign staffers — Thursday's letter smacked of an unambiguous indication Biden was all but green-lighting a presidential campaign. Several individuals familiar with the letter say it was circulated with Biden's blessing. The individuals weren't authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
For his part, Biden has been silent on the issue for weeks while allowing his own self-imposed deadlines to fly by. His indecision has led many Democratic leaders to publicly write off his prospects, particularly as Clinton revels in a strong debate performance and an impressive stretch of fundraising, solidifying her status as the Democratic front-runner.
Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders both announced this week they'd raised more than $25 million in their last three-month stretch, a potent reminder that many of the Democratic establishment's donors and top players have already committed to a declared candidate.
To some Democrats, Biden runs the risk of being perceived as a spoiler at this point, drawing votes away from Clinton without any substantial prospect for electoral success. In public comments, the GOP is all but laying out a welcome mat.
Even Biden friends and aides remain at a loss to explain exactly what is holding up his decision.
In more than a dozen interviews over the past week, individuals close to the vice president described a man still wrestling with whether he and his family would be well served by campaign pressures while they continue grieving the death of Biden's son in May. Yet more than two months after Biden began seriously weighing that question, those individuals said it was unclear what could change that would push him from undecided to yes or no.
Still, Biden and his team are approaching their just-in-case preparations for a potential campaign with a new level of seriousness.
This week he has been placing calls to top Democratic strategists in early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to solicit candid assessments of his chances, according to individuals familiar with the calls. Biden's team has also had detailed conversations with campaign data and analytics experts to determine how quickly he could ramp up the digital side of his campaign, the individuals said.
For Biden's supporters, including those backing the Draft Biden super PAC, those signals serve as the reassurance they were seeking that their enthusiasm hasn't been misplaced.
"The steps that we're seeing toward a potential candidacy are definitely creating some excitement and anticipation and hope in people that this might be happening," said Mike Cuzzi, a former Obama campaign official in New Hampshire who is supporting the pro-Biden super PAC. He added that Biden's supporters were "eager for him to make a determination."
Clinton's supporters feel the same, but for different reasons. After her widely lauded performance in Tuesday's debate, her campaign chairman told reporters it was time for Biden to make up his mind.
Clinton herself said in an interview with The Boston Globe that she had discussed the campaign with Biden a few months ago.
"I said: 'You know, Joe, this is totally up to you and your family. We were friends before, we will be friends after, whatever you decide,'" she told the newspaper.
Republicans, meanwhile, have been pining for a Biden campaign, in hopes that a more combative Democratic primary would weaken Clinton.
"Right now there's no question Joe Biden would be the toughest candidate for Republicans to beat in the general election," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Allison Moore.
The lack of certainty has also put President Barack Obama in a delicate position, caught between loyalties to his vice president and his former secretary of state. "I'm not going to comment on what Joe's doing or not doing," Obama said Friday, describing Biden as his "very able vice president."
Most recent polls show a hypothetical Biden candidacy running third, behind both Clinton and Sanders, with support in the high teens. Biden appears to primarily draw voters who would otherwise lean toward supporting Clinton. Surveys have shown a recent uptick in positive opinions of Biden nationally, with 85 percent of Democrats viewing him positively in a Gallup Poll this month.
In the letter, Kaufman offered the first clues to Biden's rationale for a run, describing an "optimistic" campaign that would focus on expanding middle-class opportunity and protecting Obama's legacy. He also drew an implicit contrast with Clinton, who has been criticized by some as appearing calculated or overly choreographed.
"I think it's fair to say, knowing him as we all do, that it won't be a scripted affair," Kaufman said. "After all, it's Joe."
Associated Press writers Emily Swanson and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
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