Hot and Heavy: What the media’s flirtation with Biden is missing

The press is suddenly showing the love for Joe Biden—but may be painting a misleading picture in the process.

Most of the stories on the vice president weighing a late-in-the-game challenge to Hillary Clinton have an undertone of excitement, because the media want a contest and not a coronation.

Journalists are casting Biden as the anti-Hillary, the authentic pol who’s got the very shot-and-a-beer qualities that she lacks.

Nearly all seasoned political reporters have known Biden for decades—I first covered him as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in the 1980s—and they genuinely like him. Whatever his political shortcomings, he’s a warm and backslapping guy. So the temptation to contrast him with the cautious Clinton, who’s been wary of the press since her husband started running in 1991, may be too great to resist.

But one reason that Biden scores so well on trustworthy questions in the polls is precisely that he hasn’t been a candidate since 2008.

Sure, he gets criticized for what he says and does as VP, but he’s not the subject of regular political attacks and investigative reporting.

That would change the moment he jumped into the presidential race. And only a few journalists, in capturing the current snapshot, have made that clear.

The chatter surrounding Biden’s flirtation, if that’s the right word, has been amplified by the media. In fact, it’s become obvious that the Biden folks are cleverly orchestrating this boomlet to build interest in his potential candidacy.

The initial trial balloon seemed generated mainly by people around the former Delaware senator, but it soon became clear that the veep’s office was authorizing many of these leaks—particularly when Maureen Dowd reported in intimate detail conversations between Biden and his late son Beau, who wanted him to run.

Then came stories over the weekend that Biden is gaming out what it would take in terms of fundraising and early-state strategies. And this Wall Street Journal report on Sunday reverberated around the world as quickly as the stock market plunge:

“Vice President Joe Biden, who has long been considering a presidential bid, is increasingly leaning toward entering the race if it is still possible he can knit together a competitive campaign at this late date, people familiar with the matter said.”

Yet that was followed immediately by these caveats:

“Mr. Biden still could opt to sit out the 2016 race, and he is weighing multiple political, financial and family considerations before making a final decision. But conversations about the possibility were a prominent feature of an August stay in South Carolina and his home in Delaware last week, these people said. A surprise weekend trip to Washington to meet with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), a darling of the party’s liberal wing, represented a pivot from potential to likely candidate, one Biden supporter said.”

So he’s leaning toward running, but might not. What Biden is doing, in other words, is gearing up his machinery so he’ll have the option to run if he decides to jump in.

Some cautionary notes, from ABC’s Rick Klein:

“We know Biden would bring name recognition, deep experience, and a zeal for running that couldn't be matched. We also know that he's 0-2 in presidential races already, and that his own worst enemy tends to speak for himself -- literally.”

The Washington Post’s Daily 202: “Many observers think he’s already too late. Recent history has not been kind to late-entry candidates (Rick Perry, August 2011; Fred Thompson, early September 2007; Wesley Clark, mid-September 2003). None of them, however, were a sitting vice president with universal name recognition. So, we wait for Biden.”

The Huffington Post is practically trying to draft him, with Howard Fineman and two colleagues doing a listicle titled “YOLO: 11 Reasons Why Biden Should Jump In Already.”

Number 8 is kinda self-referential: “THE MEDIA WILL LOVE IT.

“You know, at least until you either get yourself into trouble…or emerge as the frontrunner.”

Obviously, Hillary’s email debacle and sinking polls have created a sizable vacuum, so Biden may take another month to assess whether she’s weathering the storm.

Reality check: The Real Clear Politics average puts Clinton at 49 percent, Bernie Sanders at 25 and Biden at 12.

If he became a candidate, would Biden run as the man to carry on Barack Obama’s third term? Would Biden, who’d take office at 74, pledge to serve one term? How would he distinguish his agenda from Hillary’s? Would he be willing to attack her?

For now the vice president, still grieving for his son, has a difficult and very personal decision to make. And no amount of media boosterism will change the fact that this would be a very tough race for him to win.

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