Biden: I asked Obama not to endorse me

This is like winning Powerball and saying, “I asked the lottery people not to hand me the check because I want to earn that $500 million on my own.”

Although, given Obama’s understandable reluctance to gamble on Biden, it’s really more like saying like that after you *didn’t* win Powerball.

It is true that the other candidates would have needled Biden for needing Obama as a crutch if O had endorsed him out of the gate. It’s also true that they’d each give one of their kidneys to have that endorsement, knowing how much it would mean to Democratic voters generally and to black voters in particular. Meanwhile, ask yourself this: Which of the perpetually important early states is Joe Biden best positioned to win?

Iowa? No way. Iowa’s caucus tends to reward passionate grassroots support. Not Biden’s forte.

New Hampshire? That’s in Bernie’s and Elizabeth Warren’s backyard. Sanders crushed Hillary there in 2016 and led Biden by double digits in the latest poll.

Nevada? That’s another caucus state, where Bernie came within five points of victory three years ago. Union strength there gives Uncle Joe an opportunity, but if Biden doesn’t win Iowa or New Hampshire he’ll fly into Nevada with traces of flop sweat already visible.

South Carolina? Now we’re talking. That’s a primary state, not a caucus. Biden’s made many friends there over his thousands of years in government. And South Carolina has a reputation as a kingmaker, with four of the last five nominees having won the primary. (The one exception, in 2004, saw John Edwards from neighboring North Carolina take it.) What makes the state notable among the early primaries is the composition of its electorate: It was 61 percent black in 2016, when Hillary crushed Bernie there and righted her wobbly campaign. Obama ran Hillary off the field in SC eight years earlier, beating her by nearly 30 points and proving that his upstart challenge was very much for real. Kamala Harris is counting on it to be a stronghold for her next spring, on the logic that whoever’s strongest with black voters not only takes the state but tends to take it decisively.

So tell me — given how important South Carolina is to Biden and how important black voters are in winning South Carolina, how much do you suppose he covets the endorsement of the first black president? Enough, you think, to be willing to endure some grumbling from the rest of the field about not winning “on the merits” if O turned around tomorrow and backed him?

There’s zero chance of Obama endorsing him early for the simple reason that O doesn’t want to bet part of his legacy on Biden’s staying power as a presidential contender. He’s run twice before with dreadful results. Let him prove he can hold a polling lead, gift-wrapped for him via name recognition, for a few months on his own. A more interesting question would be what Obama might do if the field narrows and we end up with a Biden/Bernie death match. In that case it may depend on who’s winning: If O senses that Bernie’s likely to prevail no matter what, a futile endorsement on Biden’s behalf might backfire by demonstrating his irrelevance to the party in 2019 and antagonizing the left, who’ll influence how history remembers him. If the race were a true toss-up, with Obama possibly able to propel Biden to victory by supporting him, that may be harder for O to resist. Even though the left would hate him even more afterward.