How Late Is Too Late for Joe Biden?

PHOTO: Vice President Joe Biden, center, greets some of the crowd as he walks in the annual Labor Day parade on Sept. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh.PlayAP Photo
WATCH Joe Biden Ponders Presidential Bid

Does Joe Biden need to get in before the first Democratic debate to be a viable candidate?

That’s a question being weighed by advisers close to the vice president as he continues to mull a potential White House bid, South Carolina state representative and longtime Biden supporter James Smith tells ABC News.

“There’s been some discussion about October and whether the first debate is critical,” Smith, who has spoken to Biden advisers, said. “And my conclusion in the discussions I’ve had is that it’s not a show stopper.”

Smith said “there’s no sense of urgency” among the Biden’s inner circle as they await his final decision, which hinges on the vice president’s personal healing process following the loss of his son Beau, who died of brain cancer at the age of 46 in May.

“There aren’t any other hurdles,” Smith said, other than Biden’s grief. “It’s not a matter of funding or anything else, all these other things are there for him.”

Earlier this month, the vice president openly pondered whether he and his family have the “emotional energy” necessary to dedicate to presidential campaign. “The factor is, can I do it,” Biden said in comments at an Atlanta synagogue. “Can my family undertake what is an arduous commitment that we’d be proud to undertake under ordinary circumstances? But the honest to god answer is, I just don’t know.”

It's entirely possible that the first Democratic debate, set for Oct. 13, will come and go with the vice president still on the fence. But how long can he realistically wait before the decision is made for him?

Larry Sabato, a political scientist and the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, offers two very different answers to the same question.

From a practical standpoint, Sabato contends, the vice president is already too late.

“The truth is that the deadline for Joe Biden to get in was probably 6 months ago in terms of getting a presidential campaign underway,” Sabato said, considering the tens of millions of dollars required to compete in a presidential campaign.

“But technically,” Sabato added, “he doesn’t have to be in until next year.”

That’s because the vice president could technically file the necessary paperwork in the states with early filing deadlines without declaring his candidacy, Sabato said.

The first filing deadline looming for Democratic candidates is Alabama, where candidates are required to submit paperwork by Nov. 6. And while Biden would have to put his signature on the paperwork, there’s nothing legally obligating him to be a declared candidate when he signs off on the paperwork.

“He could sign the paperwork and say he’s doing it in case he decides to become a candidate,” Sabato said. “Who is going to challenge that, given his personal situation?”

Even in a state like Virginia, which has some of the most onerous filing requirements in the country and requires thousands of signatures, Sabato says it’s conceivable that the Draft Biden movement encouraging the vice president to make a run could do all the legwork and collect the necessary signatures by the state's December 10 filing deadline without Biden officially in the race. “Is it easy? No. Is it doable? Yes,” Sabato said.

So while there will continue to be a path for the vice president beyond the first debate in October, the question of how much more time he will need before reaching a final decision remains unanswered.

Biden has said that based on his experience mourning the loss of his first wife and daughter, who died in a car accident in 1972, there is “no way to put a timetable” on his grieving process. But to the extent that his emotional interview with Stephen Colbert last week offers a measure of his progress, it would seem that he continues to have a long way to go in the grieving process.

“Nobody has a right in my view to seek that office unless they’re willing to give it 110 percent of who they are. And I am, as I said I’m optimistic, I’m positive about where we’re going, but I find my self — you understand it — sometimes it just overwhelms you,” Biden told Colbert, referring to the grief he feels over the death of his son.

As raw and intense as the grief may still be, Smith is of the mindset that the Biden family is in the process of arriving at the final conclusion that the vice president's voice is needed in the election.

“It’s all about a realization of seeing the challenges that our country is facing and reaching the conclusion that he has an important role to play in our country’s future, and that is a conclusion that has already been reached by many around the country,” Smith said.