Joe Biden will not run for president, ending months of tortured speculation that he would challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Flanked by President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Biden said his family was recovering from the loss of his son Beau to cancer earlier this year, but he had concluded that there was no window left to mount a credible challenge against the four Democrats in the race.
“As the family and I have worked through the grieving process, I’ve said all along . . . that it may very well be that the process, by the time we get through it, closes the window on mounting a realistic campaign for president,” he said: “I’ve concluded it has closed.”
Mr Biden stressed that while he would not be a candidate, “I will not be silent”. He called on Democrats and Republicans to “end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart”.
For months Mr Biden had kept the window open to a possible third run for the White House, while cautioning that he would need to ensure he and his family had the “emotional energy” to proceed following the death of his son.
Speculation had mounted over the summer that he would jump into the race as Mrs Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, has struggled to shake off a scandal about her use of a private email account while serving as the top US diplomat.
The news that Mr Biden will not enter the race will be a huge relief to the Clinton camp, which was concerned about him because of his reputation for being more authentic than the former secretary of state. She already faces an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, a socialist senator from Vermont.
Mrs Clinton has been bolstered by her performance at the first Democratic debate last week, alleviating concerns that the brouhaha surrounding the private email account was dragging her down in the polls.
In the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll released on Tuesday, Mrs Clinton solidified her lead with 49 per cent support, compared with 29 per cent for Mr Sanders. Mr Biden came in at 15 per cent.
Mrs Clinton also pulled ahead in the New Hampshire primary polls, with 38 per cent support compared to 34 per cent for Mr Sanders and 9 per cent for Mr Biden. In past polls, Mr Sanders had led Mrs Clinton in New Hampshire.
“Joe Biden, a good friend, has made the decision that he feels is best for himself, his family and the country,” said Mr Sanders on Wednesday in response to the decision not to run. “I thank the vice-president for a lifetime of public service and for all that he has done for our nation.”
Mrs Clinton faces her next challenge on Thursday in an appearance before a congressional committee to testify about the 2012 Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead, including US ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Mr Biden’s wife Jill was also by his side as he made the announcement. The decision is a recognition that Mr Biden would be launching a campaign just four months before the primaries begin, with Mrs Clinton and rival Mr Sanders having already built up large campaign teams and funding stockpiles
All through the period of speculation over his possible candidacy Mr Biden has insisted that grief over the loss of his elder son to brain cancer in May might mean he and his family were not ready to run.
After deciding that he was now out of time to launch a campaign, Mr Biden said he nevertheless planned to continue speaking out “clearly and forcefully” even if he was not going to be a candidate to the nomination.
He decried the “ugly forces of hate and division” that were affecting politics, saying they did not represent the heart of the US but just “a small fraction of the political elite.”
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Mr Biden had delivered a blow to Democrats who would “almost certainly be saddled with their unpopular and scandal plagued frontrunner Hillary Clinton”.
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