WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden will not run for the presidency, he said today at the White House, ending months of frenzied speculation about whether he would shake up the Democratic race.
Biden announced a Rose Garden appearance just minutes before he walked out with President Barack Obama and his wife, Jill.
Biden has flirted with a bid for months, a very public indecision combined with grief for the death of his son Beau. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton raced to build support and lay the groundwork for a national campaign -- including locking down Georgia's Democratic heavyweights.
Biden said he concluded that his family is finally mentally healthy enough for a presidential campaign, but the window for one had closed:
"Unfortunately, I believe we’re out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination. But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent. I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation."
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had staked out ground to Clinton's left, stoking the party's liberal base. It left Biden without a natural space in the race -- establishment or insurgent -- and with all the drawbacks of getting in late in the game.
But Democrats have long held Biden in high esteem with his unvarnished, raw approach that contrasts with the controlled Clinton. His natural political skills, with the implicit backing of Obama, would have made him formidable.
Various deadlines set on background by Biden's staff came and went but the official window was fast closing: Georgia Democrats meet next week to determine who gets on the ballot March 1 in the Peach State.
Biden clearly came close to running -- so close that his speech Wednesday afternoon sounded a lot like an announcement or stump speech. In it were clear shots at Clinton.
"I believe President Obama has led this nation from crisis to recovery and we’re now on the cusp of resurgence and I’m proud to have played a part in that. This party – our nation – will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy.
"The American people have worked too hard and we’ve come too far for that. Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record. They should run on the record."
In last week's Democratic debate, Clinton was asked which enemy she's proudest of and she replied, among others, "probably the Republicans." Biden's Rose Garden retort:
"I believe we have to end the divisive, partisan politics that is ripping this country apart and I believe we can. It's mean spirited. It's petty. And it's gone on for much too long. I don't believe, like some do, that it's naive to talk to Republicans. I don't think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition. They're not our enemies."
Biden said his family has finally gotten to the point where thinking of Beau "brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes." But they reached that point too late to run a viable presidential campaign. So Biden, 72, will spend the remainder of his White House days trying to run through the finish line.
"I’ve had the great good fortune of being in public service for most of my adult life, since I’ve been 25 years old. And through personal triumphs and tragedies, my entire family – my son Beau, my son Hunter, my daughter, Ashley, Jill -- our whole family, and this sounds corny, but we found purpose in public life. We found purpose in public life.
"So we intend -- the whole family, not just me -- we intend to spend the next 15 months fighting for what we’ve always cared about, what my family’s always cared about, with every ounce of our being and working aside the president and members of Congress and our future nominee. I am absolutely certain we are fully capable of accomplishing extraordinary things."
Georgia Democrats, who almost universally rallied around Clinton, responded with relief. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has publicly boosted Clinton's candidacy since 2013, said Democrats will soon start to circle the wagons.
“That rivalry would have ripped the party apart, and it would have been very challenging for Democrats to emerge from and then have a strong general election," said Reed. "I know it was a very tough process to go through, but he did what he has consistently done – which is put the country first."
He added that he expected Biden to aggressively support Clinton's campaign.
“What I think it does is unite the Democratic Party. Or at least start to," he said. "With time, and with the vice president being committed to a Democrat being elected president, he’s going to be ready to go.”
State Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick, a Lithonia Democrat who was perhaps the top elected official in Georgia to endorse Biden, expressed her disappointment in a sarcastic tweet that ended: "Guess I will support Hillary. Note my enthusiasm :-)"
She said Biden would have been a "great alternative to the baggage and dynasty perception of Clinton" and that he would have offered a dose of pragmatism that Sanders lacks.
Said Rep. John Lewis:
"I think it would have been a very difficult race for him. Mrs. Clinton is so far out in front and there are so many other people waiting to commit to her. ... I think she'll leave New Hampshire and Iowa, and she will sweep the South."