WASHINGTON — When Vice President Joe Biden steps off of Air Force Two in Iowa, there will be no shortage of speculation about his political future.
It’s Iowa, after all — the place where P residential hopefuls flock, making themselves at home in roadside diners and pizza joints as they court voters in the state whose caucuses kick off the presidential primary.
Behind the scenes, though, there are few signs the vice president is taking steps toward mounting a third bid for the top job at the White House.
As Hillary Rodham Clinton builds an elaborate campaign-in-waiting, and a few other Democrats nibble around the edges, Biden’s name has faded from the mix of expected 2016 candidates.
Biden’s aides and longtime political advisers say he isn’t organizing in early voting states such as New Hampshire and Iowa, although he’ll visit Des Moines on Feb. 12.
He has yet to form an exploratory committee or other apparatus that could rapidly scale up to become a campaign.
Although he stays in close touch with former political aides, no staff has been lined up to take on key roles in a potential bid.
Nor are any Democrats in the early voting states organizing a “Draft Joe” movement — the pining of those who aren’t ready for Hillary is reserved for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Biden will arrive in Iowa on an official White House trip. At Drake University in Des Moines, he’ll speak about the economy and the Obama administration’s policies before traveling to Des Moines Area Community College for a round-table discussion about expanding access to higher education, the White House said.
But while such a visit might normally be a sign of a candidate preparing to get in the race, former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said the only evidence of Democrats organizing in Iowa has come from former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Not a whisper from Veep,” she said in an email.
Flash back to eight years ago. By this time in 2007, Biden had declared his candidacy for President, launched a website, committed his first campaign gaffe — a set of comments about then-Sen. Barack Obama that rubbed some the wrong way — and cleaned up after the stumble.
This time around, Biden insists it’s still possible he’ll run a third time and says there’s plenty of time to decide.
“There’s a chance, but I haven’t made my mind up about that,” Biden said in a recent appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Biden has told associates that he feels little pressure or political necessity for a quick decision, according to Biden’s advisers, who spoke under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his deliberations publicly.
That’s in part because Clinton, who had been expected to announce her candidacy in the spring, is now expected to delay her own launch until the summer.
Biden plans to hold off on making a decision for as long as possible, concerned that a campaign launch will undermine the administration’s work by hastening Obama’s lame-duck status.
“He’s hamstrung. He’s limited in what he can do without hurting the president,” said Dick Harpootlian, a Biden supporter and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “It’s a difficult balancing act.”
Biden isn’t the only Democrat waiting to make a possible White House campaign official. So far, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb is the only Democrat to have taken formal steps toward a run.
Other likely candidates are quietly moving ahead, putting the sitting Vice President at a potentially significant disadvantage if he does run.
Many of the party’s top political minds, as well as major donors, are being snapped up by Clinton’s future campaign, including many Obama loyalists who helped twice elect the Obama-Biden ticket.
In recent weeks Obama’s senior counselor John Podesta, communications director Jennifer Palmieri, pollster Joel Benenson and media strategist Jim Margolis have all indicated they plan to work for Clinton.
If he does run, Biden is likely to turn to the same cadre of advisers who have guided his career for decades, his advisers said, including Larry Rasky, a veteran of both of Biden’s previous Presidential campaigns.
Biden’s former personal aide Michael Schrum, who now works in his public engagement office, has been an intermediary in early primary states with supporters and operatives seeking to stay in the loop.
That Biden would start as the underdog, after eight years as vice president, underscores his dilemma in deciding whether to take on Clinton.
While polls this early in the race have little value, they still show Clinton with a commanding lead over the rest of the Democratic field.
Although Warren has repeatedly said she’s not running, she’s nevertheless eclipsed Biden as the preferred candidate of the party’s liberal wing.
(JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press)