Former Vice President Joe Biden is in the final stages of preparing for a 2020 presidential campaign that is expected to launch next month, according to multiple people familiar with his planning.
A formal kickoff is expected by mid-April and would all but cement the size and scope of the Democratic presidential field that currently stands at 12 formally declared candidates, two still in the formal exploratory stage and others still mulling a bid but waiting to see what the former veep might do.
Biden sits atop various surveys of Democrats nationally and in the key early primary states and is seen by supporters as one of the contenders best-equipped to unite factions that are squabbling over the ideological future of the party and where and who exactly it should target in a bid to retake the White House. While the 76-year old can likely expect to find support in suburban swing districts and Midwestern states key to previous Democratic presidential victories, he faces doubts about whether he can win over minority and younger voters that are fueling much of the party's current energy and success.
Biden said last week at an event at the University of Delaware that he is in the "final stages" of making a decision and that his family is encouraging him to run. The comments confirmed what aides and supporters have been saying privately for some time. In his remarks, Biden mentioned that his grandchildren are on board with a campaign — a comment seen by longtime observers as a clear signal that he is indeed serious about pursuing the White House. In 2015, he cited his young grandchildren mourning the death of his son, Beau, as one of the main reasons not to pursue the White House.
Biden also said last week that he has met with people about how to run a campaign on social media and has already thought about who's available to staff his campaign. He said that Democratic and Republican donors have offered their support and will donate to his campaign.
He added that he doesn't want a potential bid to be a "fool's errand" — a comment similar to previous public expressions of self-doubt about his viability and the likely nasty nature of a contest against President Trump.
But recent weeks, "he's worked through a lot of that in his own head," said one of the people familiar with Biden's plans, who like the others requested anonymity to speak frankly about private deliberations.
"My sense is that he's now in a more comfortable space when it comes to questions of broader viability," the person said. "There's an element of Biden that takes his time. But he's much more confident than he was previously."
Another person involved with the plans said that "it's not an issue of being indecisive — just about getting things right." This person added that the activity level is now "moving at a campaign speed" and likely to come together quickly in the next few weeks.
The campaign is expected to be headquartered in his home base of Delaware or in nearby Philadelphia, the largest city in a critical swing state that Democrats lost in 2016.
The team is expected to be led by his longtime aide, Greg Schultz, according to the people familiar with the vice president's planning. Other senior staffers are expected to include longtime strategists Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon, his former communications director Kate Bedingfield, his current spokesman Bill Russo and several other people across the country who are in various stages of joining the operation.
Contrary to recent reports, formal job offers have not been made to potential hires in the early primary states, but conversations about potential roles are continuing, these people said.
"There's not a lack of talent for a potential campaign," said one of these people.
Biden's team-in-waiting is also eager to ensure that the senior staff reflects the diversity of the Democratic Party, a move designed to blunt potential criticism that an older white man doesn't reflect or understand the evolving nature of his party.
In order to diversify his ranks, Biden aides are undergoing a "fairly intentional bid" to "cast the widest net possible" to employ minorities, women and other activists reflecting the party, said one of the people familiar with the ongoing planning.
A big sign of the seriousness of that work came on Monday, when Cristobal Alex, head of the liberal Latino Victory Project that has helped recruit and raise money for Latino Democratic candidates in recent years, shocked his staff by announcing that he would be stepping down and hinted about plans to join a presidential campaign.
Alex declined to comment, but friends and associates said that he is joining Biden's team in a senior role. In 2016, Alex oversaw a portfolio for Hillary Clinton's campaign that focused on targeting women, black, Latino and young voters, labor unions and potential supporters in swing states. He's expected to take on a more senior role for Biden.
While Biden would be one of the last contenders to join the fray, supporters note that the 2020 field is launching far sooner than past presidential campaign cycles. In modern history, Barack Obama was the earliest eventual nominee of either party to launch in February 2007. Clinton and Mr. Trump waited until June and July of 2015, respectively, for formal kickoffs, while George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John Kerry and John McCain also launched later in the year before the election.
The anticipated campaign is expected to focus heavily on Biden's more than four-decade career and his work on domestic and foreign policy, ranging from gay rights, women's rights and his deep contacts in foreign capitals due to his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and time as vice president.
Language circulated to supporters in recent days and obtained by CBS News stresses that Biden "has spent his entire life dedicated to trying to make life easier for hardworking people in this country. He is passionate, he is empathetic, he is trustworthy — and voters know these things about him. It's why he's atop so many polls - it's not because voters know his name, it's because they know his character. They know who he is."
The language circulated to supporters also touts Biden's work on behalf of nearly 70 Democratic candidates in 26 states in the past two years, including his longtime friend Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and failed Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
Anticipating debates with other Democratic contenders about the ideological focus of the party, supporters are reminded that Biden "is a progressive champion. He was outspoken on LGBTQ rights even when every pundit around said that it was a political mistake. Because, for him, it was always about the simple question of 'who do you love?' Not about polls or politics. He introduced one of the very first climate bills in the Senate. He's stood by unions unabashedly and unapologetically."
The document concludes by stating that "Americans are reacting to — and looking for — the trustworthy, compassionate leadership that Joe Biden has brought to the national and international stage his entire career."
Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed to this report.
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