Even Vice President Joe Biden seems to be getting a little tired of the Joe Biden Watch.
As he attended a granddaughter’s cross-country race in Wilmington, Del., last weekend, Biden brushed past a reporter who asked about his presidential plans. “Get out of my way, will you?” he said.
He said it playfully, with a smile on his face, and yet there was a little edge there, too. The vice president appeared annoyed to find a satellite truck parked at the end of his driveway and camera crews filming his grandchildren’s various sporting events.
He can hardly be surprised since Tuesday – the day of the first Democratic presidential debate – will be Day 74 of his very public will-he-or-won’t-he struggle over joining the presidential contest, as marked from the moment the full-scale vigil began with a report that he had been urged to run by his dying son, Beau.
At one point, Democrats hoped the debate would be a deadline for Biden to make up his mind, and as late as last weekend his advisers held out the possibility that he could participate if he decided to run by then. CNN has even set aside an extra lectern in case he does. But his public schedule showed him being in Washington on Tuesday, not in Las Vegas, the site of the debate, meaning he will pass up a chance to distinguish himself from Hillary Rodham Clinton before millions of viewers.
I just have to be comfortable that this will be good for the family. It’s not quite there yet and it may not get there in time to make it feasible to be able to run and succeed, because there are certain windows that will close. But if that’s it, that’s it. But it’s not like I can rush it.
Joe Biden, in America magazine last month
Perhaps not since Mario M. Cuomo, then the governor of New York, left a plane bound for New Hampshire idling on a tarmac in 1991 has there been such an extended and late-hour public agonizing by a major political figure over whether to run for president. Biden initially said he would decide by the end of summer. Now aides are researching filing deadlines to see if he can keep his options open into November.
The danger for Biden, as his advisers know all too well, is that intrigue can easily turn into fatigue. After 10 weeks of his being egged on by Democrats disenchanted with Clinton and by a news media eager for a race to cover, Biden increasingly faces demands that he make up his mind.
“The vice president should have made the decision a long time ago,” said Chris Spirou, who was chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party when Cuomo ultimately chose not to run. Spirou, who calls Biden a friend, formed a committee to draft Clinton in 2013.
He recalled the aggravation that began to set in with Cuomo. “They got frustrated at the end, all of us in the political leadership,” Spirou said, “about him dragging this thing out as to whether you’re going to do it or not.”
Other Democrats argue that Biden risks slipping too far behind in fundraising and organization to mount a credible challenge to Clinton. But his advisers have concluded that as the sitting vice president with two previous presidential campaigns under his belt and supporters around the country, Biden could quickly assemble a competitive campaign.
James Carville, who was Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist when he worried that Cuomo might run, said Biden comes to the decision well versed in what it would take.
“Biden knows what running for president entails,” Carville said. “He knows what being president entails. If you want to run, run.”
”He may, and he may not,” Carville added, “but the clock is ticking.”
Some supporters said they hope a decision comes soon, in part because donors concerned about Hillary Clinton’s performance may lose interest.
One Democratic donor, who is considering supporting Biden and asked not to be identified in order to speak freely, said momentum for the vice president has stalled. “Back in September, there was all this excitement, and his poll numbers were going up,” the donor said. “Now, they’ve kind of leveled off.”
Weary of the outside pressure for his decision and what they see as media-generated stories – He’ll announce by the debate! His family is holding a decisive meeting this weekend! – Biden’s advisers plead for patience for a vice president still struggling with grief over the death of a son and trying to assess the consequences of a race on his fragile family.
No one but he can make the decision, they say. His leanings seem to depend on the day and with whom he is talking. And they assume that the wider public is more patient than the pundits and party activists, especially knowing that he is struggling with family issues.
Biden knows what running for president entails. He knows what being president entails. If you want to run, run.
Campaign strategist James Carville
Biden has acknowledged that he may be waiting too long. “I just have to be comfortable that this will be good for the family,” he told America magazine last month. “It’s not quite there yet and it may not get there in time to make it feasible to be able to run and succeed, because there are certain windows that will close. But if that’s it, that’s it. But it’s not like I can rush it.”
Some of those windows begin to close within weeks as filing deadlines approach. But his advisers have concluded that rules in several early primary states are flexible enough that it would be enough if someone on Biden’s behalf notifies them that he might run, not that he be a declared candidate. That would allow him more time to make a final decision.
Georgia comes first when the state party committee meets on Oct. 29 to decide who will appear on the ballot. Up next, according to the latest information provided to the Democratic National Committee, would be Alabama on Nov. 6, Arkansas on Nov. 9, Michigan on Nov. 17, Florida on Nov. 30, Tennessee on Dec. 1 and North Carolina on Dec. 2. But the deadlines were still subject to change.
Cuomo waited until 90 minutes before the deadline for entering the critical New Hampshire primary before declining to run, earning the nickname Hamlet on the Hudson.
“We weren’t feeling rushed,” recalled John Marino, who was chairman of the New York State Democratic Party at the time. “What we were feeling was that if we were going to compete with Clinton in New Hampshire, as soon as he announced, we had a deadline but we had to really go all out.”
The plane waited on the tarmac because Cuomo wanted to file his papers personally if he ran. There was even a backup plan to have the papers driven to New Hampshire in case a snowstorm prevented Cuomo from coming personally, recalled J. Joseph Grandmaison, a former New Hampshire party leader who would have been at the head of a campaign.
Biden has been through this himself once before. In 1984, he resisted supporters encouraging him to run, but an adviser urged him to sign papers to run in the New Hampshire primary just in case. “So I signed them, almost as a lark,” Biden wrote in his memoir, “Promises to Keep.” He gave the papers to his sister and close adviser, Valerie, to file if he opted to run.
Biden and his wife, Jill, then went on vacation. By the time his plane landed, he had decided. He called his sister and told her not to file the papers.