SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden initially refused to run with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama a decade ago, but his family ultimately convinced him he had to support an African-American candidate with a real chance of winning, he said Thursday at the University of Utah.
Biden, 76, was greeted with a standing ovation as he took the stage amid speculation about whether he will launch his own 2020 campaign for president.
He did not directly address the possibility of another run in the speech that marks his final scheduled public event in 2018. Instead, he spoke about the pain of losing his son to brain cancer in 2015 and reminisced about his eight years serving with Obama.
Joining the ticket “turned out to be the best decision my family ever made for me,” he said with a smile.
His son Beau was 46 when he died of a brain tumor in 2015. Joe Biden decided not to run for president the following year despite having assembled a team to run a campaign. “I thought I was best to continue what Barack and I started,” he said.
Beau Biden, a political figure in his own right as Delaware attorney general, had wanted his father to run for president in 2016, but the elder Biden wasn’t ready for the demands of a campaign so soon after his death.
Still, he made a promise to his dying son that he wouldn’t withdraw from the world.
“It was, ‘Promise, Dad, you’ll stay engaged,’ ” he said. “Beau, did in a sense, did save me.”
Biden is expected to make a decision about 2020 after spending time deliberating with his family over the holidays, sources have told The Associated Press. University of Utah professor Mark Matheson moderated the Thursday talk and told reporters he decided not to ask him about 2020 in order to keep the talk focused on education and inspiring students. Biden did not take questions from reporters.
During the speech, Biden looked back at his eight years serving with Obama, calling it a time without “one little skinny inch of scandal.”
He joked that online memes about his close relationship with the president were all true, except that “he made the first friendship bracelet, not me.”
Biden, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate at age 29, said he was propelled into public life by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. He served in the Senate for 36 years before becoming vice president.
After his tenure ended in January 2017, he released a memoir about his son’s fatal illness titled “Promise Me, Dad.”
Biden has maintained a packed schedule this year, campaigning for Democrats ahead of the midterm elections and taking trips to promote the book. He has done little to refute speculation about a possible presidential run, saying last week in Montana that he’d be “the most qualified person in the country to be president.”