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Joe Biden, At University Of Utah, Talks Purpose, Grief And (Opaquely) Presidential Ambitions

Photo of Joe Biden
Image courtesy of the University of Utah

Former Vice President Joe Biden told an audience at the University of Utah on Thursday that he had every intention of running for president in 2016, but his eldest son’s diagnosis of brain cancer made him reconsider.

“I thought I was the best suited to finish what Barack and I had started,” he said of his thinking at the time.

The 76-year-old Democrat spoke to a rapt crowd at Kingsbury Hall on campus for a speech focused on hope, hardship and purpose.

Despite speculation about a 2020 bid, the former vice president only opaquely referenced his presidential ambitions, neither affirming nor denying whether he would run again.

“Promise me, dad, you’re going to be OK,” Biden recounted Beau Biden saying to him before he died. “He didn’t want me to walk away from what has animated me my whole life.”

Biden said speculation about his political future had been fueled by a misreading of his son’s final words, which was really a commitment to stay engaged in civic life more broadly.

“They made this ‘Promise me, dad’ into ‘Promise me you’ll run for president,” said Biden. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Biden has been touring the country promoting his memoir “Promise Me, Dad” about overcoming grief after his son’s death. The Democrat said he had found purpose in traveling the country and promoting causes he believes in, including finding a cure for cancer.

Mary Beckerle, CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, introduced Biden at the event and praised the vice president for fundraising and promoting cancer science research.

“[He is] a person who turns adversity into opportunity,” she said.

The hour-long Q & A also touched on Biden’s upbringing, marriage and financial advice for students.

“Pick what you love if you can figure it out,” he said. “But don’t measure your success or failure relative to your material well-being.”

Asked about his initial resistance to serving as Barack Obama’s running mate, he said it was ultimately his late mother, Catherine, who convinced him to join the ticket.

Biden said she did so by underscoring that Obama was the first African-American candidate with a viable chance of being elected president and Biden could help him win over so-called rust belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“It turned out to be the best decision my family ever made for me,” he said.

Biden also appeared to take a swipe at President Trump, though not by name, saying he was proud of the Obama administration’s eight-year streak without any major political crisis.

“Not one little skinny inch of scandal, not one,” he said to a cheering audience.

“And by the way, all those memes are true,” said Biden, referencing wryly captioned photos of him and President Obama goofing off together.

Biden closed his speech complimenting Utah, the Mormon faith and U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr.

“I hope he stays, the country needs him there,” said Biden.

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