Will it be the former secretary of state or his right-hand man? Both are longtime friends and both have been instrumental to his presidential terms, so who will Obama endorse — Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden? While historically, the incumbent president and his administration have primed the vice president to take the torch, Clinton has thrown a wrench in the usual protocol. Her former position as a cabinet member and her overwhelmingly favored current position as the Democratic nominee are making it that much more difficult for Obama to support his VP. However, he can't outright support her either, lest he throw his second-in-command under the bus. So what's a man to do?
In February, during an interview before the big game on Super Bowl Sunday, NBC's Savannah Guthrie tried to coax an endorsement out of President Obama. She suggested playing a game of "Either/Or" and after asking more innocuous questions like, "football or basketball?" and "wings or chips and guac?" Guthrie asked Obama, "Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden?" Obama promptly responded, "Love 'em both. Good try!"
Obama has tried to remain all Switzerland about where his endorsement falls, but occasionally he and his administration have deviated from impartiality, early on in Biden's favor, but more recently in Clinton's direction.
In 2013, when the 2016 race had yet to take concrete shape and the chances between any presumed candidates were relatively even, the Obama administration took active steps to boost Biden's prospects. Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, Obama appointed him to lead a high-profile task force on gun control, which he could have designated to the FBI director or another top agency figure. Biden also visited devastated New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, led the presidential delegation to the inauguration of Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, and negotiated an eleventh-hour "fiscal-cliff" deal with Senate Republicans. All of these events garnered Biden substantial media coverage, raising his profile as a possible presidential candidate.
More recently, White House spokesman Josh Earnest hinted at the president's allegiance to his vice president at a press briefing on Monday. When a reporter asked whether Clinton automatically gets Obama's support, Earnest responded:
The answer to that question is no. ... There are other people who are friends of the President, who may at some point decide to get into the race.
Biden is probably the first person who comes to mind who fits this description.However, that's not to say Obama has completely shunned endorsing Clinton, and there were also times when his administration's loyalty to Biden defaulted.
On Saturday, one day before Clinton made her announcement, Obama commented on his former secretary of state at a press conference in Panama City:
She was a formidable candidate in 2008, she was a great supporter of mine in the general election, she was an outstanding secretary of state, she is my friend. I think she would be an excellent president.
But when reporters asked about Biden, Obama was less forthcoming, simply saying:
I am not in the business of prognosticating future elections.
Back in 2013, Obama's chief aides displayed an early preference to Clinton over Biden. In an interview with ABC's This Week, David Plouffe, one of Obama's former strategists on his 2008 campaign, said of Clinton:
If she runs in the primary, she's the frontrunner. Obviously the vice president is someone who will take a look at this. We have other governors and senators who will take a look at it. But I think, you know if she were to run, she would be an enormously strong candidate in the primary.
David Axelrod, Obama’s former White House senior adviser, also believed that Clinton eclipsed Biden's chances, telling MSNBC in July 2013:
I think that Hillary Clinton probably will be the candidate. If she doesn’t run, I think Biden will run.
While Obama has been more careful to comment on Clinton and Biden's respective chances, his aides' shared theory seems pretty accurate based on early reactions.
Long before Clinton announced her presidential run on Sunday, she was way ahead of Biden in early polls. Last July, NBC News/Marist polls found that Clinton secured a whopping 70 percent of the vote in Iowa to Biden's 20 percent in a hypothetical race among the then-presumed candidates. In New Hampshire, the gap was even wider: 74 percent for Hillary and 18 percent for Biden. The public endorsement surrounding Clinton is so deafening that it's taken the wind out of Biden's campaign before it's even been announced.
As a result of Clinton's far-reaching support, it's been trickier for the White House to mount an internal campaign to help boost its VP. The 2016 race might be truly unprecedented for both Clinton and Biden. Whereas most vice presidents have had to step out of the shadow of their commander in chief, Tad Devine told the National Journal, "I don't think that's Biden's problem" because Clinton "is as strong as an incumbent president." It's Clinton's shadow that Biden will have to escape.
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