WASHINGTON – CNN announced before this week’s Democratic debate that it had an extra lectern in Las Vegas, just in case Vice President Biden joined the race at the last minute. Before long the lectern had its own Twitter handle, @bidenspodium.
“I’m so cold,” it tweeted before the debate, “and lonely.” It provided some commentary about Bernie Sanders during the debate (“Why is the old man yelling?”) and, when the debate ended, the lectern returned to melancholy. “Alone, again,” it tweeted.
That may be how Biden feels now.
The man dithered for months, deciding whether to run for president. And now his moment may have passed. Hillary Clinton’s strong debate performance seems to have caused the clamor for a Biden candidacy to die overnight.
Jonathan Martin of The New York Times said Clinton’s triumph “swiftly cooled talk” about the need for a Biden run. Politico’s Mike Allen, who had predicted Biden would announce his candidacy last weekend, said “Biden waited too long” and now will find it “much harder” to join the race. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, talking to Democrats after the debate in Las Vegas, said there was a sense that Clinton “sucked a lot of air out of the Biden balloon.” ABC News called Biden “out of sight, out of mind.” NBC News pronounced Biden “the big loser” of the night. Yours truly found “the rationale for his candidacy diminishing.”
Was nobody still begging for Biden? I called Josh Alcorn, a former Beau Biden aide who advises the Draft Biden campaign, and asked: Did our man miss his moment?
“No!” Alcorn replied. “I don’t think he did at all. Joe Biden’s vision for our country and its future will be a welcome addition to this race.”
What about all the people saying he missed his opportunity?
“I disagree,” the loyal Alcorn maintained.
He said he and his colleagues at Draft Biden will carry on “doing the same thing today as we were doing last week, as we were doing two months ago, four months ago, five months ago.” Enthusiasm for the vice president was undimmed by Tuesday night, he reported. “Anecdotally, I can tell you I woke up this morning to 45 text messages and slew of emails all saying we would love to see the vice president on the next debate stage.”
So should I bet on Biden running?
“I’ve spent enough time in Vegas to know that I’m not a gambler and I wouldn’t encourage any of my friends to gamble,” Alcorn said. “Keep it in cash in suitcases.”
Sound advice. On the website PredictIt, shares of Biden-will-run were discounted to just 39 cents on the dollar Wednesday afternoon, down from 61 cents five days earlier.
Even before the debate, Clinton had stabilized in the polls. The RealClearPolitics average of major polls showed Clinton bottoming out a few weeks ago then edging upward, while Biden and Sanders retreated by similar amounts. A Fox News poll released Tuesday showed Biden besting Clinton in hypothetical matchups with Republicans, but that’s likely because Biden isn’t a declared candidate and so isn’t getting pummeled daily. At the same time, the Obama administration’s completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership put Biden on the wrong side of the Democratic electorate on an issue that should be prominent in the headlines over the coming months.
The flesh-and-blood Biden (not his debate lectern) seemed content to go about his official duties Wednesday far away from Iowa and New Hampshire: lunch with President Barack Obama, an afternoon meeting with Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, and remarks to the White House’s “Build America Investment Initiative Roundtable.”
“We are very lucky to have you here,” White House economic adviser Jeff Zients said when Biden strode in late to the Build America event.
Biden smiled. “No, you’re not,” he said.
The pool report described Biden as being in “good spirits” and speaking animatedly and passionately about transportation policy. Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev asked him what he thought of the debate and when he would say something about his own candidacy.
“I thought they all did well,” Biden replied. He left without commenting on his plans.
It’s said that Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president, John Nance Garner, described the office as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” But as Biden finds enthusiasm for his candidacy waning, he may prefer the warm, ceremonial saliva of the office to a cold reception on the campaign trail.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.