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The Riggs Report: Joe Biden’s missed opportunity

Democratic debate in Vegas offers little incentive for him to enter the race

Vice President Joe Biden skipped the chance to make a dramatic declaration of his candidacy at this week’s initial Democratic debate in Las Vegas, opting instead to stay home in Washington and host a high school reunion gathering.

That decision to look back, instead of forward, represents a key missed opportunity.

Asked the following day what he thought about how Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the other three Democratic presidential candidates did, Biden offered little insight.

“I thought every one of those folks did well,” Biden said in responding to an on-the-fly question posed by a waiting reporter.

The key to that brief answer lies in how well Hillary Clinton did. Had she performed poorly, stumbled on tough questions, or appeared touchy on the federal investigation of her e-mail accounts, that would have boosted the octane level on the encouragement Biden’s been getting to jump into the race.

Instead, Clinton gave a polished performance, showing energy and command of issues. And she got an unexpected campaign boost from her most serious opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who told debate moderator Anderson Cooper he was “sick and tired” of hearing talk about the e-mail investigation.

That was a stand-out moment. It drew a broad smile and an expression of appreciation from Clinton, who’s been trying unsuccessfully to move past the e-mail issue and the damage it’s been causing to her image in terms of trustworthiness. It took the issue off the table for the remainder of the debate. Sanders could have used the issue to his advantage, employing it to club Clinton. But he said afterward that dismissing the issue was the right thing to do; that it was more important to discuss matters like Wall Street reform and economic equality.

Clinton’s political troubles are far from over. Next week, she is scheduled to appear before the House select committee formed to investigate the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

But Sanders’ lack of interest in the e-mail issue, along with new questions about the political nature of the Benghazi committee, have placed Clinton in a much stronger position.

That has a direct bearing on what Biden will do. Politically, Biden faces a steep climb in terms of fundraising, winning endorsements, and putting together a skilled team were he to get into the White House race this late.

The storyline that he is still pondering whether he has the commitment to put himself and his family through the rigors of a campaign is getting old.

Biden could still launch a bid before the next Democratic debate in November. But increasingly, thanks to strong performances this week from Clinton and Sanders, it looks like his moment may have passed.