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Roger Simon: Biden remains mysterious on 2016

September 21. 2013 8:40PM

JOE BIDEN spoke for about a half-hour at Tom Harkin's steak fry here in Indianola, Iowa, last Sunday, which for Biden is barely a clearing of the throat.

But it was more of what he didn't say that counted.

He lavishly praised his host, Harkin, who is retiring from the Senate in 2015. And he lavishly praised his President, who will be retiring in 2017. He praised San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who shared the stage with him and may be beginning a brilliant national career.

He even reserved one line of praise for a man who hasn't been getting all that much praise lately. "I think John Kerry has been one of the best secretaries of state in the history of America," Biden, a man not capable of understatement, said.

But how about Hillary Clinton, who recently held that job? How about Hillary Clinton, who some think will run for President in 2016?

For her, Biden had not a single word.

Is it because he intends to run against her? Or that he just forgot? Or that he couldn't name everybody in government - though Biden sometimes seems to try?

The Harkin steak fry - at which no steak has ever been fried; they are grilled - is no ordinary event. And when Biden was invited to headline the event this year, it set tongues wagging. Was this an invitation to open his 2016 campaign?

Biden gave no hint, only a bit of devilish humor.

Turning to Castro, Biden said, "It seems when you come to speak at the steak fry, a whole lot of people take notice. I don't know why the hell that is. You've attracted the entire national press corps!"

The national press corps - or a reasonable fraction of it - did not turn out for Castro, of course. They came out to see whether Joe was going to go for the big brass ring once again.

At breakfast Sunday, attended by two reporters from The Washington Post and me, Castro said, "My hope is that Hillary and Biden work it out. Should we have a primary fight? Of course not!"

You can argue it either way. Primaries sharpen candidates and get them ready for the general election, or they so bloody candidates that they are exhausted before the general election even begins.

A 2016 primary battle between Biden and Clinton might merely be a press-driven fantasy, of course. There is no doubt both have earned the right to run, but there is no assurance that either will. And if Hillary decided to run, would her prospects of victory be so daunting that Biden wouldn't even think of challenging her?

Biden could have set minds to rest either way Sunday, but he chose mystery instead.

After a goofy photo op - Harkin, Biden and Castro holding steaks on spatulas over an enormous roaring grill - a reporter asked Biden whether he is ready for 2016.

"I'm ready for some House and Senate seats in 2014," Biden replied.

That would be nice for the Democrats but far from assured. They could lose seats in both houses rather than gain them.

But Castro was certain that time favors his party.

"Right now, the Democratic Party has a broader coalition than the Republican Party," he said. "When you think of the hoops a Republican has to jump through for his base compared to ours! The Democrats will win anyway in 15 years (because of demographic changes in the electorate), but we've got to accelerate it."

And Castro, who turned 39 on Monday, may play a role in that acceleration. As well as seasoned warhorses such as Biden, 70, and Hillary, 65, the Democrats have a number of relative youngsters gnawing at the bit.

"The downside of a young, up-and-coming bench is that everybody is ambitious," Castro said. "And nobody wants to lose."


Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist.

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