Vice President Joe Biden's reluctance to enter the presidential race centers on his family. His wife, Jill, has never relished political life and is said to share his misgivings about whether the Bidens are emotionally equipped for another campaign.
Those close to the second lady say she won't stand in the way of her husband's political ambitions, but her feelings about a White House bid are a major factor in Biden's decision. Only three months after losing their son, Beau, to brain cancer, the 72-year-old Biden appeared somber and weary at an Atlanta synagogue Thursday night as he pondered his family's readiness. "The honest-to-God answer is I just don't know," he said.
While the vice president's deliberations have played out in semi-public fashion, Jill Biden's have taken place away from the spotlight. She has yet to discuss in detail with her staff her views on a possible presidential run. But she has been looking out for her husband and echoing his concerns about whether he can completely devote himself to a hard-fought campaign, according to several people who have spoken to her in recent weeks.
Some of these people demanded anonymity because they didn't feel comfortable publicly discussing the family's private deliberations.
Sonia Sloan, a Biden family friend since the 1970s who volunteered for his past campaigns, said she saw the Bidens at a mutual friend's funeral a few weeks ago and that their grief was "just written all over them."
"Beau was always a part of those deliberations, and they are grieving terribly," Sloan said. "When he's run in the past, the family's been a very active part. This time, given the situation, it will be a really long, thoughtful process."
Jill Biden campaigned actively for her husband when he ran in 2008, and then when he joined President Barack Obama's winning ticket. As second lady, she has played a visible role promoting education and military families. Said her spokesman, James Gleeson: "Anyone speculating about Dr. Biden is only doing just that — speculating."
She previously has said her husband would make an excellent president, Gleeson noted, adding that "she will continue to support him in his career, as he has always supported Dr. Biden in hers."
Speculation about a late entrance by Biden has spiked in recent weeks as he has actively explored the possibility of jumping in. Such a move would reshuffle the Democratic primary at a time when some in the party are concerned about Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign struggles and pine for more options. Forty-five percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they wanted Biden to run in a Gallup poll last month.
Biden has been speaking with donors, longtime supporters and potential endorsers as aides and friends tally how much money they might be able to raise for a campaign and how quickly. He and his advisers have told potential supporters that if he were to run, he would not attack Clinton, despite persistent questions about her use of a private email account and server while secretary of state.
"He has to make a really difficult decision," Clinton said in an interview with NBC News on Friday. "You can see him struggling with it and I just wish the best for him and his family. If he gets into this race, there will be plenty of time to get into the debate and the back and forth."
Biden, in his most extensive public remarks on his deliberations, said Thursday it would come down to his family's emotional outlook — not on practical considerations like the other candidates' standing and building a viable campaign organization.
"The factor is can I do it. Can my family undertake what is an arduous commitment that we'd be proud to undertake in ordinary circumstances?" Biden said.
Weighing heavily is Beau's wish, conveyed before his death, for his father to run. Another son, Hunter, has been among those reaching out to potential supporters. And sister Valerie Biden Owens, who led previous campaigns, has been intimately involved with the discussions, aides said.
After Biden's wife and infant daughter died in a 1972 car crash, Jill Biden adopted Beau and Hunter. In 2008, Beau Biden corrected NBC's Ann Curry when she referred to Jill Biden as his stepmother. "My mom," he interjected.
Asked whether she was his father's top adviser, Beau Biden added, "I call her his number one partner. And it covers all facets."
A community college professor and former high school teacher, Jill Biden has never hid her lack of enthusiasm for life in the public spotlight, despite supporting her husband's career. In his 2007 book, "Promises to Keep," Biden said his wife was "sensitive to the demands of a presidential campaign" before he ran in 1988 and told him their "children's lives would surely change."
She has continued teaching full time throughout his vice presidency, maintaining her own life in addition to her work as second lady. "She says her students inspire her," Biden said Thursday, noting that she returned to the classroom two weeks ago.
"She's a tough, smart, compassionate woman who cares about him and about the family," said Mark Gitenstein, a former U.S. ambassador and Biden friend who worked for him in the Senate. About Biden's family, Gitenstein said, "He won't do something they don't want to do, and they won't do something he doesn't want to do."