Will Joe Biden jump into the 2016 race?

US Vice President Joe Biden attends a reception for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on 20 July 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The vice-president, or Veep, as he is commonly known

A close American friend tells the story of her son's graduation from Georgetown University.

To celebrate they had booked a restaurant close to the campus, and as they are walking in, who is coming out but "Veep" - Vice President Joe Biden.

He stops and talks to the family, and takes the young man by the arm and says: "Always honour your mother and father. They've worked hard to put you through college."

I bet if Mr Biden were reminded of this encounter he would have no recollection of it. But for my friend it made the deepest impression, and she has wanted him to run for the Democratic nomination ever since.

What he has is a warmth, a humanity and an easy, authentic charm that many find distinctly lacking in Hillary Clinton.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Will Biden step in if Hillary Clinton's campaign runs out of steam?

Yes, he can be verbose and is prone to saying the wrong thing on occasion, but he speaks "human" as a first language; it's not something it looks like he's learnt from a textbook.

And for anyone who watched the heart-wrenching funeral service for his beloved son, Beau, they would have also seen something else.

A man of immense dignity and unbelievable strength as he stood outside the church in his dark glasses and greeted each of the mourners who had come to pay their respects.

No father should have to bury his son - it is against the natural order of things. But Joe Biden is no stranger to pain in his life, having lost his first wife and a child in an earlier car crash.

Tough choices ahead

As Beau lay dying, it was his apparent deathbed wish that his father should mount a challenge for the White House. At 72, Joe is no spring chicken. He also has a problem in that nearly all the big money has been tied up by Hillary Clinton.

So he has a choice, and it's a difficult one. Difficult because the two simple options are not available to him.

Simple choice one is that Hillary is doing so well in her campaign that he simply forgets about all personal ambition, waves an avuncular hand in her direction, wishes her godspeed and asks "what can I do to help?"

Image copyright AP
Image caption A warm and humble politician, Joe Biden connects easily with people

Simple option two is the exact opposite: the Hillary campaign is going so badly - wheels coming off the wagon, engine misfiring, scandal engulfing her, poll ratings diving, donors deserting, party establishment banging at his door, while telling Hillary the game is up - that he goes back to Delaware and announces his bid.

Hillary's problems...

Her critics say she's closer to scenario two than one. But you don't come through what Hillary Clinton has been through without developing a personal body armour that has an admirable thickness to it. She is not Teflon coated, it's cast iron.

Let us, though, pause briefly to consider her problems.

Emailgate (which doesn't yet warrant the full "gate" denomination, but might yet) has displayed all that is least admirable about the Hillary campaign. Don't give in. No surrender. Screw the shrill Republican baiters demanding that the server be handed over. Tough it out.

And then five months later surrender in a damage limitation exercise, which hasn't limited the damage - but played to sub-conscious anxieties in voters' minds about the character of Hillary Clinton. Her honesty and trustworthy poll numbers are falling fast.

Image copyright AP
Image caption He remained remarkably composed at his son's funeral earlier this summer

Meanwhile in the granite state of New Hampshire (which was where she put her presidential campaign back on course nearly eight years ago by beating Barack Obama in the primary there), the latest polls show that the socialist (yes that's how he describes himself) senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, is out in front.

In LA this week, 27,000 people turned up to one of his rallies - 27,000, 15 months away from an election! But Senator Sanders for all his strengths is just NOT going to win the nomination.

All of which leaves Joe with a decision to make, and make it he must pretty quickly. Strategists I've spoken to reckon that - at most - he has two months to decide whether he's in or out.

Any later than that and he won't be in a position to mount a credible campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. I'm told he is making exploratory calls about funding and putting a team together.

Hillary may be stalling, but there's no way she's going out of the race. And she's clearly not setting the US alight either with her campaign to date.

So come on Joe. What you going to do? Are you going to take her on or not?

2016 runners and riders

Image copyright AFP/AP
Image caption Clockwise from top left: Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton
  • The early Republican frontrunner is Donald Trump
  • Hillary Clinton will have learnt much from her failed campaign of 2008
  • Florida senator Marco Rubio lost some right-wing fans by backing a bipartisan immigration reform package
  • Wisconsin governor Scott Walker appeals to both the Republican establishment and the Tea Party
  • Libertarian Rand Paul has his supporters - and enemies - among Republicans
  • Veteran congressman Bernie Sanders is running as a Democrat despite never formally being part of the party

Meet all of the 2016 hopefuls