Barack Obama and his top aides struggled to fend off questions about vice-president Joe Biden’s possible 2016 run on Monday, as rampant speculation threatened to eclipse the White House’s political message.
Amid reams of Washington conjecture, outright speculation and a trending #bidenwatch Twitter hashtag, Obama was again asked whether his 72-year-old deputy would enter the race to succeed him.
“We’re talking about climate change today,” Obama said.
It is an issue that has become increasingly distracting for a White House that prides itself on trying to shape the daily media agenda.
One Democratic lawmaker, Brendan Boyle, went as far as to declare for Biden on social media.
“I have a very good source close to Joe that tells me VP Biden will run for Prez,” the US congressman tweeted.
I have a very good source close to Joe that tells me VP Biden will run for Prez— US Rep Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) October 19, 2015
The White House was a little less forthcoming.
“The vice president himself needs to make this decision,” said spokesperson Josh Earnest, in one of a series of questions from reporters during the regular daily briefing.
“It’s something that he’s obviously been considering not just over the last several months, but I think probably even longer. And when he’s arrived at a decision, I’m confident it’s one he’ll announce.”
Earnest denied that the speculation was a problem, but said that sooner or later a decision would have to be made.
“I think that anybody who has served this party and this country as long as the vice president has is entitled to all of the time and space that they need to make this personal decision,” said Earnest.
“The laws of physics will require that this is a decision that be announced relatively soon, because the date of these contests is coming up. But for the precise date, that’s something that only the vice president knows.”
The issue poses a problem for the current Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, who has struggled to hit her stride.
Biden -- as much a back-slapping, hand-shaking, old-school retail politician as he is a statesman -- is popular with voters and has garnered great sympathy following the recent death of his son.
According to a recent CNN poll of around 1,000 people, Biden has 51% favorable ratings, versus Clinton’s 46%.
Crucially, he is less distrusted, with 37% of those polled holding unfavorable views, versus 50% for Clinton.
“I think the time has come for a decision,” a seemingly impatient Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta recently told MSNBC.
If Biden were to enter the race, his popularity would almost inevitably fall, but with just months to go before the first vote in Iowa, logistics may prove his biggest obstacle.
Clinton and her currently closest challenger Bernie Sanders have already chalked up millions in fundraising and hired staff in key positons in early voting states and in campaign headquarters.