Report: Biden "95% there" on running for president

I’m honestly surprised. This guy’s been dithering about whether to run through not one but two election cycles now. Clearly he’s not that eager to do it. Just as clearly he’s going to face a barrage from the left if he gets in aimed at knocking him back from the fragile frontrunner status he momentarily enjoys. It’d be the easiest thing for him to conclude that he’s simply too old and his time is past. Then he’d be remembered by his party warmly, as a two-term VP to the first black president who had the good sense to stand aside as the tide shifted left instead of trying to hold it back.

But no, according to the Hill’s source, he’s just about ready. Hard to say no when every primary poll has you in the lead, even if you’re topping out at 29 percent or so.

“It’s pretty clear he’s jumping in,” said one source with direct knowledge of the would-be campaign’s moves, adding that Biden is “95 percent there.”

In recent days, Biden has sought to build support from grass-roots activists and is specifically asking donors for their help in the lead-up to an announcement, according to sources…

“He has been the most popular surrogate during the midterms and one of the only surrogates that can play in all 50 states, and that has given him a lot of confidence that he can do well in a national election,” [Democratic mega-donor Robert] Wolf said.

So there you go. Biden, the heir to the Obama coalition (or at least he hopes so), versus Trump and MAGA Nation in 2020. No survivors.

But wait! WaPo has a story about Biden out today too. And the story is — act surprised — that the old man is still “agonizing” over whether to do it, just as he seems to have done every four years for most of his adult life.

Now into mid-February, with a burgeoning field of Democratic candidates, Biden is still on the fence, neither in nor out, in a lingering state of political limbo. Some potential staffers have already defected, and some of his supporters worry the prolonged indecision could begin to threaten his chances…

Staff members who have committed to work for him if he runs have stopped guessing on a decision date. On a few occasions, some members of his inner circle were convinced he was ready to pull the trigger, only to find it did not happen. Year-end family discussions about a potential run did not end the process, which people around Biden describe as intensely personal for the former vice president.

“This isn’t just treading water, but I don’t know how close we are to the shore,” said a person familiar with the planning process who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

You can understand why Biden feels he has more time than the average Democrat to decide. Not only is he universally known and thus doesn’t need to worry about introducing himself to primary voters, he’s extremely well-liked. Seriously, eyeball the table that FiveThirtyEight put together. If anything’s going to end up enticing him into the race, it’s not his small lead in primary polls, it’s his favorability among Democratic voters. I can imagine him sitting back, letting the newbie candidates spend a few months leaking oppo research on each other, then galloping into the race in mid-summer and trying to consolidate the centrist vote, confident that the good vibes Dem voters have for him will ensure an instant attraction.

But note the bit in the WaPo excerpt about the competition for quality campaign staffers among Dem contenders. If Biden’s entry was guaranteed and it was a purely a matter of waiting for it, maybe some of the talent out there would stay on the sidelines for him. Since it’s an open question whether he’ll run at all, though, only a fool would wait around. I don’t know if a late entry makes sense either given the psychology reality of choosing a candidate in the modern age. You can do it and win: Trump’s entry was a little late in summer 2015. But Trump wasn’t facing any competitors who had an ardent fan base of their own except arguably Ted Cruz, and Cruz’s devotees were less devoted to the man than to the cause of “constitutional conservatism.” Biden would be facing at least one candidate in Sanders with a bona fide cult of personality around him and others, like Harris, with a solid and growing fan base. The longer he waits, the more Democratic voters have time to fall in love with them or with another candidate and the harder it’ll be to pry those voters loose later. Why give a likable candidate like Cory Booker time to himself to pander to the center? Why give a potentially formidable rival for the moderate vote like Amy Klobuchar time to gain a foothold?

Frankly, I think these two stories from WaPo and the Hill are complements to each other. Presumably some of his allies ran to the Post to complain about him taking so long when they have other offers on the table, then other allies saw that story, panicked at the effect it might have his staffing prospects, and went running to the Hill to assure political pros that he’s definitely, absolutely, most assuredly probably going to run.

Eh, it doesn’t matter. Harris is going to win regardless, right? New from California:

California votes early next year so a win there may end up as rocket fuel for Team Kamala. In fact, even when you include Biden in this survey, he does no better than tie with Harris at 26 percent. If she’s destined to win there and likely to win in South Carolina given the influence of the state’s black voters, maybe Biden’s figuring that it’s not worth bothering to run.

Note, by the way, that Kirsten Gillibrand trails no-name John Delaney in that poll, a result that makes my shriveled heart sing. Exit question: Is Beto O’Rourke, the other ditherer in the race, going to run? Democrats seem to have another task in mind for him.