Politics & Government

In Miami, Joe Biden gets feel for presidential campaign

Joe Biden came to Miami on Wednesday and sounded — at times — like a politician with another campaign in him.

Speaking at Miami Dade College’s North Campus about making higher education more affordable, the vice president touched on the sort of themes — immigration reform, the economy and the middle class — that presidential candidates like to deploy from the stump.

Biden isn’t running right now. But he’s thinking about it. And his two-day trip to Miami-Dade and Broward, the most Democratic counties in the country’s largest swing state, only stoked the fire among reporters and political observers that a Biden 2016 campaign could be for real.

“It’s amazing how good the school is. Look at all the press you’ve attracted,” Biden joked to about 150 people gathered at MDC’s Science Complex. “Their interest in community colleges impresses me. I hope that’s what they’re going to write about!”

He also made a reference to people unafraid to fail — a line that referred to the courage of older students returning to college that nevertheless could apply to potential candidates weighing a run for office.

“People who aren’t willing to risk failure never succeed,” Biden said. At the end of the event, when a couple of reporters yelled questions about his plans, Biden didn’t respond. An unidentified man in the audience, though, let his own feelings known: “Run, Joe!”

There was no getting around the fact that Biden, especially when he started to speak, looked like a man grieving the death of his son Beau three months ago to cancer.

Yet Biden warmed up as he went along. He spoke more than half an hour about the importance of community colleges in educating young people for good-paying careers and touted the Obama administration's proposal to pay for students’ first two years of community college.

“I doubt there were many of you who could sit down and write a check for $6,000 in tuition without worrying about it,” Biden told students. He stopped to remove his jacket — the packed room was stuffy — and appeared unfazed by a moth fluttering around. (“What’s that butterfly doing here?” he remarked.)

Biden thanked the two local members of Congress in attendance — Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, and Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami — and mentioned that MDC President Eduardo Padrón was traveling to Australia.

“I just want the faculty and staff here to let him know, I know if my wife were back here he would be here,” he added. “I am known at every community college in America and other places as Dr. Jill Biden’s husband.”

Wilson and Curbelo spoke to Biden privately, but not about his political plans, the congresswoman said.

“He has to feel it in his gut,” said Wilson, who acknowledged a Biden run would make it difficult for Florida Democrats to pick between the vice president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Whether it is Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton, Democrats are just repackaging President Obama’s same old partisan rhetoric and stale ideas,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Ali Pardo said in a statement. “Americans want new ideas, new leadership, and a new direction from their next president.”

Despite Biden’s longstanding Florida support, most donors and party leaders don’t see a path for him to win the nomination. Biden was scheduled to attend a Wednesday evening fundraiser for Senate Democrats in Coconut Grove — planned months ago — and will drop by Davie on Thursday to promote President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Before his speech Wednesday, Biden toured an MDC biotech lab. Nine students clad in white lab coasts and blue gloves held vials with green solution and sediment. One of them, Lilliam Hernandez Guerrero, asked Biden, a natural retail campaigner, if he wanted to help.

“No, I'm going to watch,” Biden said. “I can see the press headline: ‘Biden screws up experiment.’”

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