Biden Is Preparing for 2020. Can He Overcome the Hill-Thomas Hearings?

Former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, the last Democrat to lead that state, said Mr. Biden had a unique ability to assemble a winning coalition there, with an appeal anchored in his modest roots.

“He talks about things that are important to a lot of working-class Ohioans — health care and economic justice,” Mr. Strickland said, predicting Mr. Biden would start out as the Democratic front-runner if he runs.

But Mr. Strickland, who was a close ally of the Obama administration, said he was unsure how Mr. Biden would fare in a rowdy Democratic field, and said he would have to address “the Anita Hill period of his political life.” Mr. Strickland added that he was personally urging another possible contender, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State, to enter the race.

In the broad orbit of former Obama administration officials, affection for Mr. Biden runs deep, but so do reservations about his potential candidacy. Some worry that the idea of a Biden candidacy sounds better than it would turn out to be, and express a sense of protectiveness toward a former vice president who could see himself branded as something other than Democrats’ beloved “Uncle Joe” in a rough-and-tumble primary.

Others are actively recruiting another Obama ally for the race: former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. In separate conversations earlier this year, Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s former senior adviser, and Michelle Obama walked Mr. Patrick’s wife, Diane, through the demands and expectations of a national campaign, Democrats briefed on the discussions said.

Mr. Biden has told several Democrats, including some who are contemplating the 2020 race themselves, that if he sees a strong party leader emerge whom he could comfortably support, he might back that person rather than run himself. The absence of such a figure, so far, has intensified his deliberations.

“He’s said for two years if somebody is really moving he’d step aside,’’ said Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic strategist who sought to draft Mr. Biden for the 2016 race. “And I’d argue that nobody has stepped up yet.”