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Joe Biden is running for president

One thing became abundantly clear during the past several days of inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C.: Joe Biden is running for president in 2016.

Ok, Biden isn't technically in the race. (Technically, there isn't a race yet either.) And, of course, minds can change between now and 2016. But, Biden is doing everything that someone who is planning to run would do. Everything.

"In a couple years he is going to take a hard look at it," acknowledged Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden of his father's interest in running for president during an interview on MSNBC this morning. But, Biden appears to already be taking that "hard look."

Consider the following:

* Biden -- with Beau, a major rising star in both Delaware and nationally, in tow -- not only stopped by the Iowa State Society's inaugural ball on Saturday night but also delivered this gem of a line: "I am proud to be president of the United States, but I am prouder to be Barack -- I mean, excuse me."  (He quickly corrected himself to note he was/is proud to be President Obama's vice president.) As we have said before, no politician goes to Iowa -- or to the Iowa State Society inaugural ball -- by accident. It just doesn't happen.

* Biden invited New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan to attend his private swearing-in for a second term on Sunday at the vice presidential residence. New Hampshire, as you might remember, plays a pretty important role in the presidential primary process.

* Biden was in full Biden mode during the inaugural parade on Monday, working the crowd in a way that had "Vote for Me!" written all over it. If you missed Biden's performance -- there is no other word for it -- you can watch six minutes of Joe being Joe below.

Politicians very rarely do things by accident and you can bet someone who has been in the game for as long as Joe Biden knows exactly what he is doing. And what is that? Ensuring that any other politician looking at the race -- or any donor or activist beginning to mull who they should support -- knows that the contest runs through Biden. That is, the Martin O'Malleys and Andrew Cuomos of the world will have to make their decisions about the race knowing that the sitting Democratic vice president is very much interested in running and likely to be in the field.

We've written recently in this space that Biden, so often caricatured as a gaffe-spitting, oafish figure, is more formidable than many people realize. Biden's work in averting the fiscal cliff coupled with his leadership role in the White House's push on tightening gun laws has, at least for the moment, changed perception about the vice president as a candidate for the top office.

As Roll Call political columnist Stu Rothenberg wrote in a must-read piece handicapping the 2016 race today: "For different reasons, [Hillary] Clinton, now the outgoing secretary of State, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. are in a tier all their own, though they aren’t in an identical place within that tier."

Stu's right. There's no question that everyone -- up to and including Biden -- will have to wait to see what Clinton decides since she would be a clear favorite if she gets into the 2016 contest.

But, if Clinton says no, Biden may have the next best claim to frontrunner status. And, what the past few days have convinced us of is that if Clinton doesn't run, Biden almost certainly will.