Joe Biden believes he could have won the presidency in 2016, had he made it through a tough Democratic primary.
Barack Obama’s vice-president also hopes Donald Trump, who has had a tempestuous first two months in office since beating Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, “grows into the job a little bit”.
“I don’t have a lot of hope now,” Biden said. “I hope that he succeeds.”
The former Delaware senator with a dazzling smile was speaking to a student audience at Colgate University in central New York state on Friday. A local newspaper, the Observer-Dispatch of Utica, reported his remarks.
“On a college campus I will never, never do anything other than answer the question completely unvarnished and straightforward,” said Biden, 74.
“The answer is that I had planned on running for president. And although it would have been a very difficult primary, I think I could have won.”
Biden had “a lot of data collected” which backed his confidence, the paper reported.
In October 2015, after much press speculation and an organised attempt among activists to draft Biden, the vice-president announced that he would not run for the White House for a third time, after short runs in 1988 and 2008.
In an emotional speech delivered in the White House rose garden, with Obama and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, at his side, Biden said the “grieving process” for his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in May 2015, had affected his decision.
At Colgate, Biden said: “At the end of the day, I just couldn’t do it. So I don’t regret not running. Do I regret not being president? Yes.”
He added: “I didn’t run because no man or woman should announce they’re running for president of the United States unless they can look the public in the eye and promise you they can give you 100% of [their] attention and dedication to this effort. I couldn’t do that.”
Clinton, who defeated a strong primary challenge from the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, beat Trump by nearly 3m ballots in the popular vote but lost in the electoral college, after a string of working-class states usually strongly Democratic plumped for Trump’s populist platform.
“I don’t regret not running in the sense that it was the right decision for my boy, for me, for my family at the time,” Biden said.
“But no man or woman announces for president of the United States unless they honestly believe that from their experience they’re the best-qualified person to do that. And at the time I thought that the circumstances were such that I was the best qualified.”
Biden’s question and answer session with students followed a 30-minute lecture about technology, taxation, education, infrastructure investment and what Biden called “the fourth industrial revolution”.
“To all of you students assembled in this auditorium, we’re counting on you,” he said. “You understand this better than most of us.”
The Observer-Dispatch highlighted what it said was Biden’s likely bipartisan and multigenerational appeal, quoting the husband of a local Republican couple in their 60s who said he thought Biden was “an extremely intelligent person”.
“I think if he had run,” the husband said, “I would have liked to have heard what he had to say.”
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