WASHINGTON — There are two questions Joe Biden just can’t avoid most days: When can you campaign for me? And what are you doing in 2020?
The former vice president already has been one of the most active Democratic surrogates in 2017 and 2018, and his advisers are hard at work on plans for a busy campaign schedule this fall that could have him appearing at as many as a dozen events each week.
At the same time, he and a trusted inner circle have quietly been engaging a wider network of political allies to sketch the outlines of what a Biden 2020 candidacy might look like should he decide to run, multiple sources who have participated in the discussions tell NBC News.
Biden himself has only gone so far as to say he’s not ruled out what would be a third run for the White House. He’s also been adamant that while a decision won’t come until after the 2018 midterms, it shouldn’t linger much beyond year’s end — a timetable that would help to bring some order to what could be the largest Democratic presidential field in generations.
“If there were a primary here next week in South Carolina, and Joe Biden were in the primary, he would win it — going away,” predicted Rep. James Clyburn, the assistant House Democratic leader and a longtime friend who speaks often with Biden. “What’s going to happen between now and 2020 is another question. I have no idea.”
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Any Democrat with eyes on the White House is likely at some point to visit South Carolina for Clyburn’s “World Famous” Fish Fry, part of the state party’s convention weekend. And in April at least three potential candidates made the trek to Columbia for it, mingling with activists and party leaders in the state that holds the “First in the South” primary
Looming — literally — over the crowd that Saturday night was that very familiar face.
“Hello, South Carolina Democrats!”
Biden addressed the assembled activists not in person, but with a video message that included an endorsement for the leading gubernatorial candidate, state Rep. James Smith. “He reminds me of my son Beau,” Biden said as part of his brief testimonial.
His cameo, and his very personal message, underscored the inherent dilemma for of Biden. There’s little question he feels strongly about the course of the nation under President Donald Trump, and the Republican’s 2016 victory unexpectedly left open the possibility of Biden making another White House run. But the same factor that led him to stay out of the 2016 race remains at play in 2020.