Still, in conversations over the phone and strategy sessions in his rented Northern Virginia home that are occasionally interrupted by his German shepherds, Major and Champ, Mr. Biden has acknowledged that he is uncertain about his place in the 2020 Democratic primary. He is also uneasy about potential attacks from rivals on his family, aides and advisers say, namely his son Hunter, a lawyer and lobbyist who went through a high-profile divorce in 2017 and has struggled with substance abuse.
And in a soliloquy that was unplanned if not unexpected to Biden advisers – rarely do the garrulous former senator’s private views remain private for very long – he openly gave voice to both concerns last week.
“I don’t think he’s likely to stop at anything, whomever he runs against,” Mr. Biden said about President Trump, expressing his alarm about putting his “family through what would be a very, very, very difficult campaign” without directly mentioning his younger son.
And then he mused about not wanting to pursue “a fool’s errand” in an appearance at the University of Delaware. “What I don’t want to do is take people’s time, effort and commitment without there being a clear shot that I could be the nominee,” Mr. Biden explained.
While he is the leading the field, Mr. Biden is far from an overwhelming favorite and appears to have support from about a third of the Democratic electorate. Senator Bernie Sanders is close behind him and other prominent candidates, like Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, trail them both.
Mr. Biden has spent much of this year running what amounts to the non-incumbent’s version of a Rose Garden campaign: giving high-profile paid speeches and appearing at events, both in the United States and abroad, that project him as statesmanlike.
Avoiding Iowa and New Hampshire, and the probing questions that would come in early nominating states, Mr. Biden has instead appeared in Munich, where he spoke about the trans-Atlantic alliance, and in Omaha, where he warned that America’s “reputation is being tarnished” abroad during an event with former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who was a defense secretary for President Obama.