CHATTANOOGA (Tennessee) • US Vice-President Joe Biden, the subject of rising media speculation about whether he will run for the White House, gave a speech on Saturday that frequently brought him close to tears, recalling the five victims of shootings at military installations in Tennessee.
Mr Biden, who has been on vacation in South Carolina, flew to Chattanooga to deliver the eulogy for the victims of the July 16 shootings carried out by a local man motivated by Islamic extremism.
The vice-president has been vacationing on Kiawah Island off South Carolina's coast with his family. But on Wednesday night, he called one of his most outspoken political supporters and wrestled with the question looming over his future: Should he run for president?
In the hour-long conversation with Mr Richard Harpootlian, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Mr Biden did not reveal which way he is leaning, according to a Democrat familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mr Biden described the recent death of his son Beau as an "open wound" that had not begun to heal, and was grappling with whether he can devote his full energy to a campaign. But at the same time, he and those who support him are moving to put the pieces into place for a possible candidacy.
The vice-president directed Mr Harpootlian to get in touch with one of his closest political advisers, Mr Mike Donilon, and has been calling other supporters. And he has permitted his advisers to discreetly contact operatives in early nominating states to determine how fast they could organise a campaign.
A once-ragtag "Draft Biden" movement has entered a new, more aggressive phrase that closely resembles an exploratory committee.
The group is contacting Democratic insiders about everything from how to establish a presence at the Iowa State Fair, to which Democratic donors and officials in South Carolina need to be contacted.
The Iowa State Fair has become a crucial proving ground for candidates because the state holds the first party nominating contests in the 2016 campaign for the White House. Nearly all candidates are making stops at the fair.
Still, there is no waiting movement for Mr Biden to tap into: He has not a cent of campaign money and has not taken any formal steps towards a campaign.
The ramped-up effort from the Draft Biden group and calls from some of his advisers have raised eyebrows among Democrats.
Mr Donilon, who has worked for him for decades, spoke recently to Mr Jeff Link, a long-time Iowa Democratic strategist.
"He asked me what I was hearing on the ground," recalled Mr Link.
Much of the work is being done by the Draft Biden super Political Action Commitee, an operation founded by Mr William Pierce, 27, an Army Reserve captain. For starters, Draft Biden is planning a social media campaign to remind voters of his accomplishments in the Senate and the White House, in addition to his off-the-cuff political style.
Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton and her supporters have handled Mr Biden gingerly, but they are sceptical he would enter the race to a surge of excitement. Still, her closest aides have privately expressed concerns that the campaign would have to spend heavily to defeat him in a primary.
"We should all just let the vice-president be with his family and make whatever decision he believes is right for him," Mrs Clinton recently said.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS