Friends and supporters of the late Beau Biden are emerging as a key force behind efforts to help his father, Vice President Biden, become president.
Many of them were classmates at the University of Pennsylvania or Syracuse University’s law school, where Beau Biden met several dozen rising stars. Some from Penn in particular vividly recall meeting then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), both at the Ivy League school and when he hosted his son’s friends at their home just 25 miles from the Philadelphia campus.
“We all want to give back to somebody like that,” said Jonathan Blue, a fraternity brother of Beau Biden’s who runs a private equity firm in Louisville. Blue estimated that 20 alums from Penn have remained part of the political network that would be ready to work for the vice president should he enter the race.
The new energy comes as Biden is giving his most serious consideration to another presidential campaign. He has met with leading party figures, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and President Obama’s former White House counsel, and has been sounding out a contingent of mega-donors to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns who have been hesitant to sign on with the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Beau Biden’s death in May from brain cancer at age 46 has haunted the Biden family and is playing a central role in the vice president’s consideration of a late entry into the 2016 sweepstakes. Beau Biden had been a key booster of the idea that his father should run again for the top White House job.
But Biden remains deeply conflicted, telling Democrats in a conference call Wednesday that he is trying to determine whether he has the “emotional fuel” to jump into the race.
“If I were to announce to run, I have to be able to commit to all of you that I would be able to give it my whole heart and my whole soul, and right now, both are pretty well banged up,” he said in the call, which was recorded by CNN.
Some longtime confidants of Biden also remain wary of a presidential bid, but there’s more energy among Democrats who are worried about Clinton’s sagging poll numbers amid questions about investigations of her e-mail practices while serving as Obama’s secretary of state.
Beau Biden’s allies are some of the most supportive of a third presidential bid by his father. Their point of contact is Joshua Alcorn, who was a top political adviser to Beau Biden, a former Delaware attorney general. After wrapping up his financial affairs this summer, Alcorn moved over to the Draft Biden 2016 super PAC.
The super PAC expects to reach $2.5 million to $3 million in donations in the coming month as new fundraisers and donors come aboard, said national finance chairman Jon Cooper. If Biden runs, the group would morph into a super PAC supporting his candidacy, much like the Priorities USA Action super PAC is backing Clinton.
Alcorn — a native of Wilmington, Del., who graduated in 1999 from Archmere Academy with the vice president’s daughter Ashley — has known the family for years and worked as a field operative in Waterloo, Iowa, for Biden’s failed 2008 presidential bid. But his deepest connection comes through working for Beau Biden.
Earlier this week, Alcorn issued a two-page memo outlining the case for why the vice president could win the Democratic nomination. Without citing Clinton, he highlighted Biden’s garrulous personal style, a stark contrast with the former secretary of state’s stiffer demeanor.
“Everyone knows Joe Biden’s straightforward style and authentic approach to politics,” Alcorn wrote. “But combine those likeable qualities with a heavyweight résumé — decades in the United States Senate and six and a half years executive experience in the White House — and the case for Joe Biden is clear as day.”
These new Biden backers would come along with traditional supporters, such as trial lawyers who have long donated to the campaigns of the former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. The most critical donors probably would be former Obama fundraisers who are itching to find an alternative to Clinton.
Even as these supporters promote another Biden campaign, however, some longtime friends continue to express reservations about the ability to defeat Clinton in a primary and also what such a loss could do to the grieving vice president.
Mark Gitenstein, a former ambassador to Romania who served as Biden’s counsel during Supreme Court confirmation battles in the 1980s, wrote a $1,000 check to the Biden super PAC in early May, soon after he learned that Beau Biden’s cancer had returned. In an interview, Gitenstein said that he wanted to express his support and devotion to the Biden family, but that he’s not sure the vice president should run.
“It doesn’t mean that because there’s a strong draft movement, he should accept the draft,” Gitenstein said in an interview. “That doesn’t mean he should put himself through this. He’s been through hell.”
Some Democrats, while fond of Biden, “don’t want him to do something that would be very difficult and painful,” said a former Senate colleague who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue freely. This ex-senator said that despite Clinton’s early stumbles, she holds a commanding position among Democratic voters and that her family’s political instincts to play tough could leave the vice president defeated and embarrassed.
Many Democrats think that if Clinton’s e-mail scandal grows so serious that she must leave the race, Biden would be the natural backup candidate. Some Biden advisers say, however, that the only way to win is to get into the arena and fight, because the Clintons have spent 25 years in national politics weathering scandals that seemed far worse than questions about an e-mail server.
The new generation of Biden supporters sides with the camp that’s ready for a candidacy, Blue said.
Another Penn classmate is Guymon Casady, a Hollywood producer who helped create the HBO show “Game of Thrones.” Federal records show that Casady gave just two donations to congressional or national party committees, but he is ready to help raise money for the vice president, friends said.
In 2013, before his cancer was diagnosed, Beau Biden began raising money for what was expected to be his 2016 bid for Delaware governor. Restricted to just $1,200 donations, he and Alcorn brought in about $1.2 million in just six months — a large number by Delaware standards and one that made him the unquestioned front-runner.
Some Biden supporters said that Beau Biden’s rising-star status had made the vice president’s thinking easier. One option was to bow out of elective politics and serve as his party’s elder statesman, basking in the glow of his son’s career.
Many believed that Beau Biden was destined for a presidential campaign of his own. “That’s what we all thought would happen,” Blue said.
Now, with his elder son gone, the vice president must choose between a grieving family — he spent last week tending to his grandchildren before they start school later this month — or a final chance at claiming the Oval Office.
Alcorn asked voters to “keep an open mind” for a presidential bid. “Our country, the Democratic Party, and yes, the Vice President deserves nothing less,’ he wrote in Sunday’s memo. “The more you consider it, the more sense it makes.”
Matea Gold contributed to this report.