If these were ordinary times, a happy warrior like Joe Biden would be first out of the starting gate in the race for president. It would be so easy; politicking is what he loves to do.
But with Hillary Clinton so dominant in the polls, Biden is hanging back, watching and waiting to see if maybe there’s an opening. He’s telling supporters in the early states that he’ll decide in the next four weeks, or by the end of summer.
On that thin thread, Draft Biden 2016, a SuperPAC designed to draft him into the race, is lining up endorsements in Iowa, the first contest, and organizing house parties and meet-ups across the country, from Maryland to Alaska.
“Our goal is to have one party in each state, including Alaska,” says executive director Will Pierce.
“I just like to say that. I’ve been doing national campaigns for years, and I never heard anybody say that. Support for the vice president is strong, even in the last frontier!”
Pierce did advance work for Obama in ’08 and ’12, but he’s a novice at fundraising, the coin of the realm for ’16. He says Draft Biden has one or two major donors, and is on track to hit half a million by the end of the quarter when contributions are reported to the FEC.
This is chump change in presidential politics.
What Draft Biden hopes to generate is enthusiasm, and it’s priceless. Pierce, 26, and his communications director, Ahmed Khan, are millennials, and the “I’m Ridin With Biden” bumper stickers you can get for five bucks are pretty cool.
The vice president is wearing his trademark aviator sunglasses and driving a Corvette, the image rendered in psychedelic colors like the iconic “Hope” poster in ’08 of Barack Obama.
“I have nothing but respect for her [Hillary Clinton], but eight years ago, she was inevitable, and look what happened. It’s like the playoffs, you want to make sure your candidate is ready,” says Pierce. Watching the parade of GOP hopefuls at the Faith and Freedom Summit in Iowa this month, a Draft Biden supporter said jokingly that he wanted the podium rental business when the Republicans were in town.
The commercial interests and the enthusiasm that is generated by a competitive campaign is what a lot of politics is about especially in the early contests. Iowa State Senator Tony Bisignano says he would rather Biden decide to run and not bother with the draft, that Iowa needs him to get people interested and young people excited. Bisignano has supported Biden since his first run for the presidency in 1988, and again in 2008. “I’ve taken him everywhere from the state fair to church. Everyone loves Joe.” A recent Quinnipiac poll of Iowa Democratic caucus goers puts Biden’s favorability rating at 79 percent. Even with the Secret Service, Bisignano notes that Biden is able to “bust loose.”
“We’re not having a contest, we’re having a coronation,” Bisignano says, and that’s a hardship for Iowa Democrats. With a Republican governor, two Republican senators, and a Republican House, the only body the Democrats control is the Iowa Senate, and that’s by the closest of margins (26–24). To build excitement, they need competition. “I don’t think Clinton’s brief appearances here are going to cut it,” says Bisignano.
Iowa Democrat Jim Lykam agrees, that’s why he agreed to sign a letter along with several other Iowa lawmakers urging Biden to run.
Lykam, a longtime Biden supporter, said when the veep is in town Biden will have the Secret Service call ahead that he wants to see Lykam, which makes the eight-term Davenport lawmaker feel pretty special. In their last conversation about 2016, Biden said, “Jim, you’re going to be one of the first to know,” a promise the veep no doubt has made to countless others who consider him their friend.
Primary fights can get very bitter and personal, yet what’s most striking about the Draft Biden effort is how civil everything seems to be, at least so far. If Biden declines to get into the race, Draft Biden ‘16 will support Clinton, no question. The doubts that emerge around Clinton for these Democrats center on her struggle to relate to voters in the same way her husband is able to do, and that Biden does so easily.
“For her, it’s like having to join a fraternity or a sorority, there’s pledge week and hell week,” says Dick Harpootlian, former Democratic Party chairman in South Carolina, who tells of taking six hours to play golf with Biden because the veep felt an obligation to chat up everyone on the course.
“He relates to everybody,” says Harpootlian, who is advising Draft Biden ’16.
Once a self-described “vociferous” Clinton supporter—he went door-to-door in New Hampshire with Bill in ’92—he chose Obama in early ’07 despite his historical ties with the Clintons. “It’s more than charisma; it’s more than the ability to emote; it’s the ability to speak to 25,000 people and have every one of them feel you’re speaking to them. Clinton had it, Bush had it, Obama had it, Reagan had it. Joe Biden has it—he can bring people to tears. She ain’t got it.”
After cornering the market on enthusiasm in the last two elections, these Democrats, all men perhaps not coincidentally, worry that the promise of electing the first woman president may not be enough to rally an electorate groomed by cable television and social media to expect the raw emotion of political combat. But it may be enough to deter Biden.