WASHINGTON -- A few days into U.S. President Barack Obama's second term, talk has already turned to who will run to succeed him in 2016 -- and his often unscripted vice-president has become the latest favourite in the guessing game.
Social media loves to describe Joe Biden as a kind of off-colour but loveable uncle, and the satirical website The Onion has buffed his bumbling, every-guy image with its fake stories about him washing his favourite sports car, shirtless, in the White House driveway or sucking down tall beers.
But Biden has also been called perhaps the most influential vice-president in U.S. history, and his decades of experience in the Senate have been used to help broker deals on the recent so-called "fiscal cliff" and lead on issues such as gun control.
Biden can be famously off-script, but even that has ended up pushing for change. His comment during an interview last year that he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage led Obama to come out in support of it himself, earlier than his staff said he had planned.
The vice-president, who practically danced his way along the parade route after Obama's inaugural ceremony on Monday, is dropping plenty of hints that he may try to cement Obama's legacy with his own presidential campaign in 2016.
Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remains the heavy favourite of the Democratic party faithful, many of whom would like to see her as the first female president, but Biden is making clear that he has no intention of closing any doors that could lead to the White House -- especially if Clinton decides not to run.
As vice-president, Biden can stay in the spotlight, and he is no stranger to the rigours of a presidential campaign after two unsuccessful bids in 1988 and 2008.
"There's a whole lot of reasons why I wouldn't run," Biden, who will be nearly 74 on Election Day in 2016, told CNN before the inauguration. "I don't have to make that decision for a while. In the meantime, there's one thing I know I have to do, no matter what I do. I have to help this president move this country to the next stage."
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday reiterated Biden's focus on helping the administration achieve Obama's goals, which Carney said was demonstrated most recently in the effort to deliver to Obama a package of policy proposals to reduce gun violence.
"That's the vice-president's focus, in his own words," Carney said. "It was when I worked for him, it was throughout the first term, it is now. As he said, other considerations are for the future."
-- The Associated Press