Joe Biden Will Not Run for President

PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN OCT. 21, 2015Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 12.13.08 PM

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Wednesday he will not be a candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign, bringing to a close a three-month exploration that began shortly after the death of his eldest child and threatened to fracture the Democratic Party.

Mr. Biden’s decision, announced in the White House Rose Garden with President Obama looking on, ends one of the most public episodes of indecision about a political path since Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York left a plane bound for New Hampshire idling on a tarmac in 1991 as he fretted over whether to run for president.

It also closes the door on one of the biggest potential challenges to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s second attempt at capturing the Democratic nomination.

Mr. Biden’s ambivalence was rooted in raw, and understandable, emotion: According to long-serving aides and friends, and even to hear him tell it in public, the vice president has been not entirely himself since his son Beau, the former Delaware state attorney general, died of brain cancer in May.

He was the second child Mr. Biden had lost: His daughter and his first wife died in a car accident decades ago.

At the wake for his son, Mr. Biden told friends that Beau, in his final days, had said he hoped his father would run for president. Mr. Biden shared that story repeatedly in the weeks to follow. It struck many who heard it as a form of therapy for a grieving man.

But over the summer, lingering questions about Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server, combined with the emergence of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as Mrs. Clinton’s strongest opponent in the primary, helped persuade Mr. Biden that there could be an opening for him.

His aides were deeply divided over whether Mr. Biden, who had run unsuccessfully for president in 1988 and 2008, should try again, especially when so many of the party’s top donors and veteran strategists, including many of President Obama’s old advisers, were supporting Mrs. Clinton.

But Mr. Biden continued to ponder entering the race and made overtly political appearances, like one at a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh, while also sitting for an emotionally raw televised interview with Stephen Colbert near the end of summer. He spoke of breaking down unexpectedly and of being uncertain about whether he had the emotional fuel, as he sometimes put it, for a long campaign after such a painful loss.

Questions persisted, as they have throughout his career, about whether Mr. Biden could put together a strong enough team to be successful. Never known as a good fund-raiser, he did not begin courting donors until September, and he did not always do so in earnest. And though many potential campaign aides were approached about jobs, the planning remained haphazard until the moment the vice president made his decision.

A television commercial put together by Draft Biden, a “super PAC” — which relied entirely on Mr. Biden’s biography and on a speech he gave this year, days before his son’s death, about the 1972 accident that killed his first wife and their daughter — seemed both to signal the enormous interest around his pending decision and to telegraph the potential blowback he could encounter if he went forward. Some Democrats called the ad exploitative, and Mr. Biden’s aides — who made clear that he had not approved of it — quickly requested it be pulled, which it was.

At the same time, Mrs. Clinton’s allies prepared for what would have been a messy, grueling campaign against a rival whose greatest political calling card has been his authenticity. Mr. Biden would most likely have faced difficult questions about his record as a senator, including his role in passing anticrime legislation in the 1990s that has now come under attack by proponents of criminal justice reform, like the Black Lives Matter movement. And he risked having his family — including his son, Hunter, a lawyer and businessman who was discharged from the military after testing positive for drugs in 2014 — pulled into the fray.

Before Beau became ill, Mr. Biden had contemplated entering the race. He had been deeply wounded by the rush toward Mrs. Clinton by so many people who had served or donated to Mr. Obama. Mr. Biden had often felt he was denied a certain level of respect by Mr. Obama’s aides, particularly after the 2012 re-election campaign. Some people close to Mr. Biden believed he wanted to set the terms of the end of his electoral career himself, as opposed to have them dictated by the political shadow that Mrs. Clinton had cast over him.