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As Hillary Clinton takes hot seat over Benghazi, Joe Biden leads 2016 race buzz

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in Cleveland, Sunday November 4, 2012.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

In the never ending chatter of U.S. presidential politics and talk of who will be the Democratic party's standard-bearer in 2016, it is Vice-President Joe Biden – and not Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who is creating the biggest buzz.

Ms. Clinton appears in back-to-back Congressional hearings Monday to answer questions about security failures at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the death last year of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. Senator John Kerry, her replacement as America's top diplomat, is set to appear at confirmation hearings tomorrow.

Ms. Clinton's swan song, in an otherwise admired tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, has been plagued by health problems that have cast doubt on whether she will run in 2016.

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Instead, it is Mr. Biden – or the 'Happy Warrior' as he came to be known during the 2012 presidential race for his enjoyment of campaign rally appearances and his sharp attacks against Republicans – who has set the tone.

Few seemed to relish the inauguration celebrations the way Mr. Biden did – at times jogging down Pennsylvania Avenue during Monday afternoon's parade and stopping to shake hands of people lining the route.

But, as pointed out by Associated Press, Mr. Biden has also reportedly used the inauguration events – including his own swearing-in ceremony on Sunday – as an opportunity to build ties with Democratic party insiders in key states such as New Hampshire and Iowa. The reported evidence: New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan attended the Vice-President's private swearing-in ceremony; later, at a reception at the Vice-President's residence, the list of attendees – many of them grassroots party workers – was a clear signal; Mr. Biden also hosted a reception on Tuesday afternoon for members of the Democratic National Committee.

Officially, no candidate – Mr. Biden or Ms. Clinton – has declared that he or she will seek the party's 2016 presidential nomination.

"I haven't made that decision. And I don't have to make that decision for a while," said Mr. Biden in an exclusive interview with CNN this week.

But behind the scenes, Mr. Biden's ambition to be heir to the Obama legacy is hardly a secret, as reported by Politico.

A Democrat with ties to the White House told web site: "He's intoxicated by the idea, and it's impossible not to be intoxicated by the idea."

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Mr. Biden has developed a strong role as the administration's "good cop" – helping close key deals with Republicans, most recently on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. He has also been the point person on Iraq policy and on gun control in the wake of the Newtown school shootings.

Beyond his bipartisan reputation, the Vice-President, who has already conducted two failed presidential bids, has the potential to capitalize on the Obama coalition of blacks, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and women who helped propel Mr. Obama to a win last November.

It was Mr. Biden who came out in support of gay marriage, prompting Mr. Obama to do the same. He chose Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's first Latina judge, to administer the oath at inaugurations ceremonies on Sunday and Monday.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden was deployed extensively in Rust Belt states in the Midwest hit hard by the collapse of manufacturing. He worked to shore up middle class and working class support for the Obama-Biden ticket.

If he were to win in 2016, he would be 74 years old. If Ms. Clinton were to win in 2016, she would be 69 years old.

An experienced Washington, D.C. politician, Mr. Biden would bring to any presidential campaign a certain spontaneity and a gift for the gaffe.

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Last year, he told a Virginia campaign rally made up mainly of African Americans that Republican candidate Mitt Romney would "unchain Wall Street." He then added: "They're going to put y'all back in chains."

At a Florida restaurant, he told a voter concerned about health-care overhaul:

"Well look, I'm not trying to talk you into voting for me, I just wanted to say hi to you, okay? And after it's all over when your insurance rates go down, then you'll vote for me in 2016. I'll talk to you later."

After the passage of Mr. Obama's signature health-care law, an open microphone caught Mr. Biden dropping the F-bomb as he told the President: "This is a big f...... deal."

Ms. Clinton, however, does have numbers on her side. Polls consistently show a majority of Americans – or 67 per cent, according the the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll – see her favourably. Mr. Biden's rating: 48 per cent.

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About the Author
Multimedia Reporter

Affan Chowdhry is the Globe's multimedia reporter specializing in foreign news. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked at the BBC World Service in London creating international news and current affairs programs and online content for a global audience. More

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