One of Democrat vice-president Joe Biden’s most vocal supporters has joined the super political action committee urging him to run for president, as interest in Mr Biden’s political future spiked amid fresh signs that his aides are looking closely at a 2016 campaign.
Dick Harpootlian, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said on Monday he was writing a $10,000 cheque to the group Draft Biden, and was prepared to donate another $10,000 of his personal funds if asked.
He said he was formally endorsing Draft Biden and would immediately begin raising money on its behalf.
People close to Mr Biden said he hasn’t told his staff whether he will run, or personally asked them to do any planning. But recent conversations between his associates and Democratic donors and operatives have led to speculation that Mr Biden will challenge front-runner Hillary Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination.
A prominent figure in South Carolina politics, Mr Harpootlian has been publicly encouraging Mr Biden to run for president for years, but had kept his distance from Draft Biden out of concern that it lacked the support of Mr Biden and his political team. The super political action committee isn’t affiliated with Mr Biden and his aides have said they don’t speak to the group’s leaders.
But in an interview Mr Harpootlian said his calculus changed last Sunday when Josh Alcorn – the top political aide to Mr Biden’s late son and former Delaware Attorney General, Beau Biden – announced he had joined Draft Biden.
A known commodity in the Biden world, Mr Alcorn raised money for Joe Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign, and also served in the top fundraising role for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s vast political operation.
“The fact he’s now in the project sends a message to me and others that this process is moving forward,” said Mr Harpootlian, whose state has an early primary in the presidential campaign. “Does that mean Joe Biden is going to run? No. But it means at least some folks around him believe they need to get ready in case he does.”
Mr Biden’s aides have previously sought to dispel the notion that Mr Harpootlian has inside knowledge about Mr Biden’s political plans, despite his long track record of supporting the vice-president. Mr Hartpootlian said he hasn’t spoken to Mr Biden since shortly before his son died in May.
Still, Mr Hartpootlian’s decision comes as Mr Biden’s associates are resuming discussions about a 2016 presidential run after largely shelving such deliberations while his son was ill earlier this year.
Individuals close to Mr Biden have started looking into the options that might be available to him if he were to run, such as potential staff in Iowa and the filing deadlines for officially entering the field.
The renewed focus on Mr Biden comes amid some signs of weakness for Mrs Clinton, including declines in her favourability ratings among voters in recent polling. In another promising sign for Mr Biden, long-time supporters in key, early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire have said they are hoping he will run again.
Official word from the Biden camp is that nothing has been decided, but an announcement one way or the other will probably come in early September.
According to reports, the vice-president has taken note of the controversies over Mrs Clinton’s private email server while secretary of state and questions about donations to the Clinton Foundation – and the toll these stories have had on her public approval ratings.
One recent survey showed the vice-president performing better than Mrs Clinton in head-to-head match-ups against possible Republican candidates.
Historically, the sitting or recently former vice-president has been at the head of the pack for his party’s nomination – Al Gore, George HW Bush, Walter Mondale or Hubert Humphrey. George W Bush’s second-in-command, Dick Cheney, was the only recent notable exception.
It seemed for a while that Mr Biden would follow Mr Cheney’s lead – he is, after all, 72 years old and would be the oldest person ever elected president if he were to win (Ronald Reagan upon his re-election in 1984 was a few months younger than Mr Biden would be).