Biden suspense builds ahead of Tuesday debate

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With the first Democratic presidential primary debate just days away, Vice President Joe Biden has yet to tip his hand as to whether he’ll be making a run for the nomination in 2016.

The clamor over a Biden bid ratcheted up a notch on Wednesday after the Draft Biden super PAC, or political action committee, released an emotional video urging the longtime Delaware Senator to run.

The video posted on YouTube features audio of Biden, lifted from a commencement speech he gave at Yale University in May, describing how he coped with the loss of his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car accident. The audio is accompanied by a montage of images featuring Biden and his two sons, who survived the accident, and concludes with a request: “Joe, run.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked Wednesday about the video during a regular press briefing. Earnest praised Biden’s leadership skills and said he has seen the video but stopped short of telling reporters outright whether the White House has encouraged Biden to run.

“Anybody who is making a decision to run for president is making an intensely personal one,” Earnest said. “And obviously that’s something that the vice president is still weighing.”

Less than two weeks after Biden’s Yale speech, his oldest son, Beau, died following a lengthy battle with brain cancer. Over the summer, reports surfaced that from his deathbed, Beau had urged his dad to run.

This week, a new wrinkle to the story emerged as multiple media outlets said Biden himself had been the source of those reports about his son’s dying wish. Biden’s camp, however has disputed the characterization of the source, first reported by the Politico website, calling it “categorically false” and “offensive,” according to NBC News.

Biden still has time to jump into Tuesday’s debate. CNN officials have given him up until that day to make a decision, according to a report on The Hill’s website.

The Debate

Tuesday’s debate in Las Vegas at 9 p.m. Boston time, will be shown on CNN, which is hosting the event, and will run for about two hours. Anderson Cooper is set to be the moderator, along with the news network’s Juan Carlos Lopez, Dana Bash and Don Lemon, according to the Weekly Standard.

Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has been criticized for scheduling just six debates between this month and March, as the primary voting begins. In the 2008 primary, the DNC had already held nine debates by Labor Day. Wasserman Schultz has said that any candidates participating in debates unsanctioned by the party will be barred from participating in the official debates.

The Roster

Frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders so far have captured the limelight among the five candidates slated to participate Tuesday. The three others on the CNN roster – former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb – all have support from less than 1 percent of voters in national surveys compiled by

Before the first Republican debate, former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina had been near the bottom of the pile of 15 candidates in national surveys. But Fiorina’s on-camera performance, including sparring with frontrunner Donald Trump, has seen her surge back into contention.

Given the opportunity, it’s not impossible to rule out O’Malley, Chafee or Webb from doing the same, although a lot will hinge on whether Biden jumps in at the last second.

Clinton’s campaign apparently hasn’t spent much time preparing her for Biden in the Tuesday debate.
According to campaign officials cited by Politico, Clinton’s strategy has featured an endless series of mock-debates with well-versed staffers. Her performance Tuesday will be “two-pronged,” focusing both on Sanders, who leads her in New Hampshire surveys, and re-introducing herself to viewers.

Sanders, a self-declared socialist and former Burlington mayor who has represented the Green Mountain State since 1991, could find himself on the defensive over gun control votes, including his failure to back mandatory background checks for gun buyers, Politico said. He also supported protecting gun makers from lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence. At the beginning of the summer, a Vermont news outlet reported that Clinton’s opposition researchers were digging through 30 boxes of Sanders archives housed at the University of Vermont library.

Unlike Clinton, Sanders has eschewed the practice of mock debates, according to the Reuters news agency. Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman, said the candidate “won’t talk about emails,” a reference to the controversy swirling around then-Secretary of State Clinton’s use of a private server in her home to distribute her official email.

“He thinks there are more important things to talk about,” Briggs said.

Strategizing for Biden?

Clinton earlier this week made a move that both distances herself from the White House and provides her with an angle to play against Biden, should he appear on stage Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Clinton came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries to cut trade barriers and protect intellectual property, according to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. His office served as President Barack Obama’s negotiator for the pact, which must pass votes in Congress before Obama can sign it.

Clinton said the pact would do “more harm than good” for America’s working families.

“I appreciate the hard work that President Obama and his team put into this process and recognize the strides they made,” she said in a statement. “But the bar here is very high, and based upon what I have seen, I don’t believe this agreement has met it.”

With her opposition, Clinton joined the other Democratic candidates, and that would make Biden, if he chooses to run, the sole supporter of the controversial agreement. Sanders, an independent in the Senate, has vowed to work with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, to defeat the trade pact.

Clinton critics point out that as Obama’s first Secretary of State, she supported the negotiations that led up to the pact. According to a CNN tally, Clinton publicly promoted the trade deal 45 times.

One of her opponents didn’t waste any time pouncing on the perceived waffling.

“Wow! That’s a reversal!” O’Malley said after Clinton announced her opposition, according to the BusinessInsider website.

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected]