Joe Biden stops just short of saying he's running in 2020
Veteran Democrat Joe Biden campaigned for president in every way but name on Saturday, declining to announce his 2020 plans but dropping hints, including a memorable gaffe that suggests he will soon be all in.
As the number of Democratic White House hopefuls keeps growing, Biden is expected to jump into the crowded race to see who will challenge Donald Trump next year, but the former vice president has maintained the suspense.
He received a hero's welcome in his home state of Delaware, where he told nearly 1,000 party brokers and leaders at a Democratic dinner that it was time to restore America's "backbone", but also that political "consensus" was necessary to move beyond the toxic tone of the Trump era.
"Our politics has become so mean, so petty, so vicious, that we can't govern ourselves; in many cases, even talk to one another," he said.
Then, a startling slip by the notoriously gaffe-prone Biden - perhaps an accident, perhaps a perfectly placed tease as he inches towards a presidential campaign.
"I'm told I get criticised by the new left. I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the United" - and then he catches himself. "Anybody who WOULD run."
A murmur rippled through the crowd, and within moments his die-hard supporters rose to their feet, chanting "Run Joe run."
"I didn't mean it!" he chuckled, looking down before crossing himself as the applause lingered.
"Of anybody who would run. Because folks, we have to bring this country back together again."
Biden, 76, sounded at times as if he were rehearsing a campaign speech, repeating lines about the promise of the 21st century and American resolve, and choosing "truth over lies," that he had used earlier in the week at a Washington speech to firefighters.
"There's so much at stake," he said about the next election, calling it the most important in a century. "Our core values are being shredded."
The Democratic senior statesman has been mulling a challenge against Trump for months.
While he tops nearly all early polls for the Democratic nominations race, strategists and election observers have stressed that he is under pressure to enter the field soon, or bow out.
One of his potential rivals, the former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, launched his presidential bid on Thursday, and spent three straight days campaigning in the early voting state of Iowa, sucking up much of the political oxygen.