WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden hits Chicago on Monday as 2016 presidential politics are percolating. If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does not run for president, Biden is the strongest alternative.
Biden’s day trip to the city is to headline fundraisers for Gov. Pat Quinn and the House Democratic political operation and to pitch a minimum wage increase with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
With her book tour wrapped up, Clinton sparks the next round of frenzy over her 2016 White House ambitions when she returns to Iowa on Sept. 14 for Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry. It’s her first trip back to the state with the leadoff vote for the presidential nomination since she lost the Iowa Caucus in 2008 to Barack Obama and John Edward.
Clinton picks her spots, so she knows that her Iowa trip will be seen as a sign that she is getting more serious about jumping in the presidential contest. No one sees Biden running against Clinton.
But if she doesn’t run?
I’ll get to that.
First, a rundown on what will be an active political day Monday in Chicago.
While Biden is helping Democrats, the Republican Governors Association chairman, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is in the city to boost GOP nominee Bruce Rauner and keynote two funders: one for the RGA, the other to benefit Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. Christie will visit Rauner’s Loop campaign headquarters, though Rauner won’t be there — he’s taking one of his kids to college. Christie is often mentioned as a possible 2016 White House contender, even with the New Jersey bridge controversy hanging over him.
Biden flies to Chicago in the morning and his first event is a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the John Hancock Center home of Scott Kluth, the founder of CouponCabin.com. The price points: $5,000 per person; $32,400 for couples.
Later, Biden and Emanuel head to the South Side for a roundtable with small-business owners to tout raising the minimum wage, a major agenda item for President Barack Obama that’s going nowhere in the GOP-controlled House. Emanuel is Obama’s former chief of staff.
The White House and Democrats continue to press, because this issue can help turn out Democrats in November. Emanuel, highlighting progressive causes as he faces a possible 2015 mayoral challenge from Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, wants a city minimum wage increase.
Finally, Biden is the draw at a Quinn campaign $15,000-per-person fundraising dinner for about 30 at the Lincoln Park residence of attorney John Cooney.
Now, back to 2016.
Clinton supporters have created several organizations to build a political infrastructure for her as she mulls her future. But since a Clinton run is not inevitable, some Democrats are visiting Iowa, just in case.
Former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., spent some of last week in Iowa, making the rounds. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has been to the Hawkeye state, as has former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. They are anonymous and dull political figures.
Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are among those also mentioned as potential 2016 candidates if Clinton declines to run. Their political stock is up, but they just are not that well-known.
Democrats will be in a panic if Clinton walks away.
Biden can appeal to the progressive wing of the party at a time progressive populism is growing in influence among Democratic activists. Biden is union. Biden is empathetic. Biden is foreign policy.
Biden’s giant challenge would be to separate himself from the Obama administration because he is part of it. Clinton has already been in some of those dust-ups. Biden is keeping the 2016 door open. As well he should.