It sure looks an awful lot like Biden is prepping for a 2016 run, doesn't it?

Leastways, he is very conspicuously keeping his options deliberately and decidedly open, doing all of the behind-the-scenes political maintenance undoubtedly prudent in terms of long-run presidential ambitions. I realize that 2016 is political eons away, and that anything can happen, and that the Democrats are looking a little nervous about what may amount to a pretty thin bench, but especially after his showing in last year’s vice presidential debate, I’ve had a tough time imagining the scenarios in which the Democrats would select what will by then be a mid-seventies gaffe-machine as their nominee. Evidently, however, both Biden himself and a growing number of supporters are hinting that this could be a hardcore campaign in the making.

Biden has already tried to throw his hat into the presidential ring a couple times throughout his long political career, i.e., this ain’t his first rodeo — and Chris Cilliza at WaPo points out that Biden is doing all the right things to keep the 2016 presidential door wide open.

One thing became abundantly clear during the past several days of inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C.: Joe Biden is running for president in 2016. …

* Biden — with Beau, a major rising star in both Delaware and nationally, in tow — not only stopped by the Iowa State Society’s inaugural ball on Saturday night but also delivered this gem of a line: “I am proud to be president of the United States, but I am prouder to be Barack — I mean, excuse me.”  (He quickly corrected himself to note he was/is proud to be President Obama’s vice president.) As we have said before, no politician goes to Iowa — or to the Iowa State Society inaugural ball — by accident. It just doesn’t happen.

* Biden invited New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan to attend his private swearing-in for a second term on Sunday at the vice presidential residence. New Hampshire, as you might remember, plays a pretty important role in the presidential primary process.

And etcetera. In that same vein, CNN reports that the vice president sat down privately with DNC delegates today:

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill will appear at a private reception at the Democratic National Committee’s meeting in Washington on Tuesday, according to two Democrats familiar with the event. …

“Biden has a national network of supporters, and this is a reminder to them that he’s still in the game,” said one DNC member invited to the event. “What time is Hillary coming?”

And the vice president’s son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, appeared on MSNBC this morning affirming that he both thinks and hopes his dad will give a presidential run a “hard look”:

Meanwhile, for his part, it appears that President Obama is actively helping Biden add some serious leadership creds to his resume, including on recent fiscal-cliff negotiations and gun-control proposals — and he now has a full second term during which he can keep giving his vice various legs-up:

Since the Obama-Biden re-election in November, the loquacious vice president has been all over the place, doing everything from the ceremonial (attending the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia) to the monumental: leading a high-profile presidential task force on gun violence that will make recommendations to Obama on Tuesday. …

In addition to all that, Biden found time to negotiate an eleventh-hour “fiscal-cliff” compromise deal with Senate Republicans, visit devastated New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, lead the official U.S. delegation to the inauguration of Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, and meet or phone a bevy of world leaders including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. …

Even a Biden pre-Christmas shopping trip to a newly opened Costco store in Washington went deeper than its photo-op surface. According to the Washington Post, Susan Brotman, wife of Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman, is an Obama-Biden bundler who raised $508,646 in contributions for the 2012 campaign. Such a financial connection could be a valuable addition to a possible Biden presidential run in 2016.

As Cilliza points out, this all looks like the presidential-campaign equivalent of sending out a preemptive bat signal to other potential candidates that whoever wants to run will have to be able to compete with Biden’s formidable political resources first. Of course, if Hillary Clinton does run, this entire issue could very likely be moot; but otherwise, among his non-Hillary rivals (O’Malley, Cuomo, Warren, etcetera), Biden does boast the greatest national recognition and longest resume.

Of course, nobody has decided anything yet, and this is the type of resource-building that can be useful to the Democrats regardless of who runs — at least, that’s the official story, and the one to which they’ll certainly be sticking for some time yet.