WASHINGTON – Joe Biden has longed to win the White House for more than three decades. If he finally makes it there after November's election, he's already talking about leaving.
In an effort to ease concerns about his age, the 77-year-old presumptive Democratic nominee has said he wouldn't seek reelection if his mental or physical health declined. He has also referred to himself as a “transition candidate," acting as a bridge to a younger generation of leadership.
Biden is rarely known for sticking to a script, and the comments are evidence of his candid style. But they're also contributing to intense speculation about who is best positioned to lead the party after him.
“We do have a longer bench as Democrats, a younger bench in terms of elected leadership all across the country,” said Democratic strategist L. Joy Williams, chairwoman of Higher Heights PAC, which promotes and supports African American women as candidates and officeholders.
Biden has not ruled out running for a second term, in part because such an explicit pledge would immediately render him a lame duck in Washington, where political capital will be needed to manage the coronavirus recovery.
But the question of his long-term prospects looms over his candidacy, especially as he considers his options for vice president.
While someone like Elizabeth Warren could broaden Biden's appeal among progressives, the 70-year-old Massachusetts senator wouldn't be the face of a new generation many in the party are seeking. That might be an advantage for younger contenders, such as California Sen. Kamala Harris, 55, or Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, 59.
It's an awkward dynamic for Biden, whose lead in the Democratic primary coincided with the onset of a pandemic, making it harder to establish himself as the party's unquestioned leader. He can ill afford chatter about who might succeed him when he still faces a competitive race against President Donald Trump in the fall.