Vice President Joe Biden met privately for lunch with President Barack Obama Monday as Washington speculation mounted that Biden could enter the contest for the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination.
If Biden were to join the race, he would be facing another key official from Obama's White House tenure, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently the leading Democratic contender in the race to succeed Obama when his second term ends in early 2017. Obama is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Obama has made no endorsement on a possible successor and has frequently praised both Biden and Clinton. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama could endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary contest, but certainly would support whoever is the eventual Democratic nominee.
Earnest recalled Monday that Obama has said that when he decided to name Biden as his running mate in the 2008 presidential contest it "was the smartest decision that he ever made in politics."
"I think that should give you some sense of the president's view of Vice President Biden's aptitude for the top job," Earnest said.
A Biden run for the White House would likely divide political loyalties among White House officials and, more broadly, Democratic Party supporters. Many Democrats in the U.S. are hoping that Clinton will be elected as the country's first female president, long after other Western democracies have elected women as their leaders. But they also admire the 72-year-old Biden for his long tenure as a senator and for the last six-and-a-half years as vice president.
Biden lost bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in both 1988 and 2008, but appears to be seriously weighing another run, calling potential campaign donors and supporters in recent days and meeting with a key lawmaker as he explores his prospects.
Biden interrupted a visit to his home state of Delaware Saturday for a private luncheon at his official residence in Washington with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a favorite among progressive Democrats who earlier this year declined overtures to enter the race herself. Warren, a fiery voice against the influence of large financial institutions in the U.S., has not endorsed any Democratic contender, including Clinton.
Biden's consideration of joining the race comes as political surveys show support slipping for Clinton, in the midst of questions about her use of a private email server during her four-year stint as the country's top diplomat during Obama's first White House term.
Voters will start casting ballots in both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating contests in February, with the parties selecting their nominees months later, ahead of the November 2016 national election.
A crowded field of 17 candidates is vying for the Republican nomination, with billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump ahead at the moment in political surveys.