Miami (CNN) Vice President Joe Biden, a reliable fundraiser for the Democratic Party and dutiful emissary of the administration’s initiatives, has traveled to Florida dozens of times since he took office.
But his trip here Wednesday, the first since speculation began mounting that he’ll launch a late bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, has nonetheless touched off talk that he’s laying the groundwork for a campaign.
In Florida, he’ll tout administration education initiatives at Miami Dade College before attending a high-dollar fundraiser at the home of Miami developer Stephen Bittel. The event, which will go to support Senate Democrats mounting reelection bids, costs between $10,000 and $33,400 to attend, an official at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said.
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who has endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary, will also attend the fundraiser.
Nelson told the Palm Beach Post this week he didn’t expect Biden — with whom he served for years in the U.S. Senate — to enter the race.
“As long as Hillary has not fallen to all of this inquiry, and I think she will overcome this, under those circumstances I don’t think Joe will get into the race. That’s just my personal opinion,” Nelson told the newspaper.
On Thursday, Biden will make the case for President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, trying to pitch Jewish leaders in South Florida at the invitation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. He’ll make a similar case at a Jewish community center in Atlanta on Thursday evening.
Next week, Biden will attend Labor Day celebrations in Pittsburgh alongside AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, with whom he met at the Naval Observatory last week.
Trumka told reporters Tuesday he left the meeting unsure of whether Biden would jump into the race.
“Biden’s a good friend. He’s been a champion of working people,” Trumka said. “He would be a good candidate; he would be a good president.”
“He has to decide whether he’s got the full focus for that, he and his family,” he added.
As summer winds down, Biden is beginning to ramp up his public appearances after an August spent mostly behind closed doors.
Associates insist Biden has yet to make a final decision on running as he weighs both the challenges of going up against front-runner Hillary Clinton and the emotional toll a campaign would exact upon his family, still mourning the death of Biden’s eldest son Beau.
His summer’s end deadline for entry could also slip, those familiar with Biden’s deliberations suggest, noting the historic visit of Pope Francis to Washington on Sept. 23 comes the same day as the Autumn equinox, the official end of summer.
Biden, as the highest ranking Catholic in the U.S. government, is expected to play an important role in Francis’ visit, which will include a stop at the White House and a meeting with President Obama.
Instead, Oct. 1 has emerged as a target date for a decision. Thirteen days later, Democrats will stage their first primary debate, a high-profile forum that most Democratic analysts say Biden must attend if he hopes to make inroads in the party’s nominating contest.
Biden has begun appearing more in public as his summer vacation period concludes.
He made a surprise visit to a county Democratic event on the Delaware coast Saturday, choking up when he thanked the crowd for supporting him after his son’s death.
“You were there in ways that absolutely blew me away,” Biden said at the Sussex County annual jamboree.
Later this week, Biden also will appear on one of the first episodes of comedian Stephen Colbert’s CBS late night show, which is replacing the “Late Show with David Letterman” — one of Obama’s late night stops during his own run for the Democratic nomination in 2007.
The appearance will be the first time Biden is interviewed on television since speculation about his presidential ambitions began — and could provide the best insights into his thinking to date.
At least one Democrat says he’s already ready for Biden to jump in.
“I would support Joe Biden as a candidate for President,” said Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, who now holds the Senate seat held by Biden.
“I think there is no stronger voice for America’s middle class,” Coons said after announcing his support for the Iran nuclear deal, adding, “I think his seasoned and senior record in national security foreign policy is unmatched but I also think he deserves the time and the space to reach decision that is really best for him and his family.”