Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Joe Biden is still deciding whether to jump into the 2016 presidential race — but how much longer can he go before he’s forced to make the leap?
The “maybe” candidate is benefiting from the speculation in the media for now, but filing deadlines to get on early primary ballots that could force the vice president’s hand are already right around the corner.
The first deadline for Democratic candidates — and perhaps the absolute moment of truth for Joe Biden — is just five weeks away: a Nov. 6 deadline to get on the Alabama ballot. The problem snowballs from there, as Biden stands to miss out on competing for hundreds of delegates if he waits into December, not to mention falling behind on fundraising and missing the first debates.
Pundits are split on how long Biden should — or could — wait to enter the race. People close to Biden say they don’t view the first debate in mid-October as a deadline. Pundits are also split on whether he should jump in soon to begin fundraising and building campaign infrastructure or continue to wait and see whether Clinton’s campaign continues to falter.
So how long is too long to avoid declaring his candidacy? The longer Biden waits, the more he’ll be in danger of missing three things: deadlines, debates and dollars.
Missing the Deadlines
The longer Biden waits to declare his candidacy, the more he’ll struggle to get on the ballot in early primary states.
Just five weeks remain until the first primary deadline on Nov. 6, when candidates need to pay a $2,500 fee and gather 500 signatures to get on the ballot in Alabama. Biden himself will need to sign a statement of candidacy form with the state party. Roughly 60 delegates — a small fraction of the total number of people who will elect the Democratic nominee at the convention next summer — are at stake there, although these delegate counts are yet to be finalized and could change.
So what if Biden opts to sacrifice the Alabama primary in favor of letting the clock tick?
Biden has only 72 hours until the next state deadline comes around: Arkansas. Biden stands to lose his portion of the state’s 37 delegates if he decides not to file by Nov. 9, digging himself further into a hole in the race for accumulating the most delegates. His next deadline comes less than two weeks later on Nov. 20, when candidates must pay a $1,000 filing fee to get on the New Hampshire ballot and vie for its 32 delegates.
Biden would stand to lose the most delegates yet if he hasn’t declared by the Nov. 30 deadline for the Florida primary, which has a whopping 245 delegates up for grabs. And if he waits one more day until after Dec. 1 to declare, he’d miss the deadlines for the primaries in Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee, totaling another 229 delegates.
Waiting this long would bring the grand total that Biden doesn’t pursue to more than 600 of the 4,800 expected total Democratic delegates, digging himself a significant hole from which to come back and be competitive for the nomination.
Missing the Debate
If Biden wants to be onstage for the first Democratic presidential primary debate, CNN is leaving the door wide open. The Vice President has until the day of the debate, Oct. 13, to say he’ll run, CNN says, allowing him to declare his candidacy mere hours before air. Biden wouldn’t even have to fill out paperwork with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) beforehand.
And we know that debates matter: On the Republican side, 23 million people watched the second debate as Carly Fiorina rocketed herself into the top tier and Scott Walker fell into the basement.
The first Democratic debate will be one of only six chances that challengers to Clinton have to topple her frontrunner status, and giving one up could prove pivotal down the road. If Biden doesn’t declare before Oct. 13, he’d have to wait more than a month to participate in the next Democratic debate.
Missing the Dollars
Biden is also beginning to fall behind on fundraising, and the longer he waits, the larger the gap between him and the competition grows.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Super PACs raised a whopping $59 million before June, and Bernie Sanders raised almost $14 million in the same time period. Both campaigns announced Wednesday a combined $54 million in campaign fundraising since then.
Biden, meanwhile, isn’t allowed to raise any money for a campaign until he declares his candidacy. Draft Biden had raised only $86,000 by June, largely before speculation that he would run started swirling.
He’ll likely struggle to raise more money until donors are certain he’ll be in the race. And meanwhile, the remaining big donors who haven’t committed to Clinton are getting anxious to settle in with a candidate.
And the campaign cash isn’t the only thing he’s falling behind on. Clinton has built a massive campaign infrastructure with offices and staff, and Sanders is beginning to bulk up his operation. Waiting will require Biden to scramble to build his operation with limited time before the first caucuses and primaries.
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