WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden and his wife are retreating from Washington for a week in South Carolina with little on their schedule but a momentous decision to make: whether he should run for president.
Biden's advisers say he hasn't indicated which way he's leaning. The vice president is still mourning the death of his son barely two months ago. But since reports surfaced saying he was taking a fresh look at running, potential campaign staffers have begun sending in their resumes, aides said, and longtime Biden donors have offered to help if he gets in the race.
And while Biden has yet to ask staff to organize on his behalf, he has started showing interest in details like filing deadlines and what it would take for him to raise enough money to build a campaign structure in the limited time left, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment publicly.
So shortly after Biden returns from his vacation, his aides and supporters are expecting a decision about his political plans.
A Biden candidacy is still believed by his associates to be unlikely. It would dramatically reshape the Democratic race and undercut the sense of inevitability surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although still the clear front-runner, Clinton has seen declines in her favorability ratings just as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been drawing large crowds, demonstrating the appetite in the party for a Clinton alternative.
In the few months left before the primaries begin, it would be tough for Biden to put together a viable operation — but not impossible, said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist.
"You supercharge the money collection by putting together significantly rich people or those with extraordinary fundraising capacity," Sheinkopf said. "There has always been a certain dislike and jealousy of the Clintons. He's got to be able to tap into that."
There are practical reasons that Biden will have to make a decision soon. The first filing deadlines for key primary states like New Hampshire and South Carolina are in November, and Biden would need some type of operation up and running to get on the ballot. He has said he'll decide by end of summer.
Biden is a frequent visitor to South Carolina. He spends most Easters on Kiawah Island and was in the state last June, surprising churchgoers by showing up at the historic African-American church in Charleston where nine people had been gunned down just days before.
After leaving Washington on Friday, Biden was to spend the night at his family home in Delaware before flying to South Carolina on Saturday for a nearly weeklong trip with his wife, Jill Biden.
Over the years Biden has often spoken about the central role his family's needs play in his political decisions. In recent weeks, nothing has done more to drive speculation about a Biden campaign than reports that Beau Biden, before his death, urged his father to run. The vice president's wife and his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, are expected to play a key role in his decision.
Owens has run all of Biden's previous campaigns, including his two unsuccessful bids for president, and individuals close to Biden described her as playing devil's advocate, raising questions about the struggles he would face securing funds and Democratic institutional support despite her support for his ambition. Jill Biden, who teaches at a community college, has made no secret of her reluctance to be in the spotlight, once calling the White House "kind of confining."
For his part, the vice president has been coy. Asked by a reporter in the Oval Office this week about whether he would run, Biden quipped, "Only if you're my running mate."
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report. Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP