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Biden Leans Toward Another Run, While Heart of His Party Has Shifted

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Chuck Hagel Forum in Global Leadership, on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 28, 2019. Nati Harnik

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden has been in this position before: On the brink of launching a presidential campaign.

This time, the question looms: Will he go through with it?

Mr. Biden told a hometown audience at the University of Delaware this week that his family had reached a consensus: “The most important people in my life want me to run.”

The former vice president underwent an emotional public deliberation in 2015 in the months after his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died of cancer, and ultimately chose not to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

This time, the 76-year-old former Delaware senator has leaned more heavily into the possibility of running for president.

During a trip to Germany to speak at the Munich Security Conference last month, Mr. Biden told a congressional delegation that he is “seriously” thinking about seeking the presidency, according to aides to two lawmakers on the trip.

A Biden spokesman declined to comment on his remarks to the lawmakers.

Mr. Biden would occupy a center-left position among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, particularly on economic issues. His progressive bona fides include a longtime aversion to foreign intervention and an ahead-of-the-curve endorsement of gay marriage in 2012, a move that at the time irritated aides to then-President Obama.

In every recent survey of early-primary-state Democrats, Mr. Biden is ahead or near the top of the polls, though results nearly a year ahead of the first balloting largely reflect his name recognition. Still, Mr. Biden has a vast reservoir of goodwill within the party and is seen by his proponents as the party’s best chance to win back Midwestern states Mrs. Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016.

Former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in 2015 Mr. Biden viewed Mrs. Clinton as a viable alternative to him.

“Now he feels it is so important for the country that the Democrats nominate someone who can win the election and end the Trump presidency. I believe Joe feels like this is his time,” Mr. Nelson said.

Behind the scenes, his team has been holding informal conversations with potential staff members and donors, and Mr. Biden has tasked his extensive network with developing a roster of policy advisers.

“I don’t want to take people’s time, effort and commitment without there being a clear shot that I could be the nominee,” Mr. Biden said in Newark, Del. “If we conclude that, I would announce and I’d run for president.”

A Biden presidential campaign would look far different from the 13 that have preceded it into the 2020 campaign, including that of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who entered the race Friday morning. He would be older than every candidate except for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is 77. His points of reference largely predate the lives of the millennial voters who comprise the heart of the party’s coalition, and hark back to an era of bipartisan cooperation that hasn’t been in effect in Washington in a generation.

During an appearance Thursday in Omaha, Neb., Mr. Biden referenced 23 other people by name. Only three — North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, his late son, Beau Biden, and a reporter from NBC News — were born since 1961.

In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has spoken fondly of Republicans unliked by some Democratic voters. In Texas, he told a glowing story about Jesse Helms, the late Republican senator from North Carolina widely seen by Democrats as a racist. In Omaha, Mr. Biden called Vice President Mike Pence “a decent guy” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “a good guy.”

After Mr. Biden’s description of Mr. Pence drew criticism on social media, the former vice president walked it back, explaining on Twitter that he was speaking “in a foreign policy context.” “There is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights, and that includes the Vice President,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden has told allies that he isn’t in any rush to announce his candidacy and some key dates on the presidential calendar might give him leeway. The next fundraising period begins in April and any candidate who files before then would need to disclose how much he or she has raised.

Separately, the Democratic National Committee recently announced that the first 2020 primary debate would be held in June, an event in which Mr. Biden would want to participate.

Mr. Biden is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a fundraising dinner for the Delaware Democratic Party on March 16.

South Carolina state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a longtime Biden ally, said Thursday that he expects the former vice president to enter the race but has received no official word that Mr. Biden has made a decision.

“I’ve seen some activity that would indicate to me he’s leaning toward running,” Mr. Harpootlian said.

Mr. Biden has been at the precipice of a presidential campaign before. He sought the party’s nomination in 1988, but his bid was sidetracked by allegations of plagiarism.

He entered the 2008 race but gained little traction, dropping out after a poor showing in Iowa. His fortunes rebounded in the summer of 2008 when Barack Obama chose him as his running mate.

Write to Ken Thomas at ken.thomas@wsj.com and Reid J. Epstein at reid.epstein@wsj.com.

Ken Thomas, Reid J. Epstein -

The Wall Street Journal. - Saturday, March 2, 2019

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