Rick Brand Portrait of Newsday reporter Rick Brand taken on

Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.

Jon Cooper, finance chairman of Draft Biden 2016, says speculation about the vice president's demise as a potential presidential contender -- before he even has had a chance to announce -- is greatly exaggerated.

"If you ask me, any talk by political pundits that Joe Biden won't run only makes it more likely that he will enter the race," said Cooper, a former Suffolk County legislator. Cooper, who has helped raise $2.5 million for the vice president, said he expects Biden to make a decision by month's end, but said he'd be happy if he decided immediately.

Cooper, who was Suffolk's first openly gay lawmaker, made his comments in the wake of Hillary Rodham Clinton's strong debate performance in Las Vegas last week, which brought a new wave of speculation that a Biden late entry into the presidential primaries may be less likely.

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The debate followed months of clamoring among some Democrats for Biden to join the fray, over fears Clinton's campaign was faltering from repeated missteps over her private email accounts as U.S. Secretary of State and a probe into the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The debate may have buoyed both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a "Democratic socialist." But Cooper argues that Biden, a political veteran with national stature and working class bona fides, leads polls when it comes to honesty, authenticity and likability -- qualities Cooper sees as crucial to the electorate. Although Cooper did not say it, Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the two front-runners for president, are at the bottom of polls in those areas.

"Democrats on the stage at the debate did a great of job of representing what the party stands for," Cooper said. "But the biggest challenge the next president will face is unifying the country."

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Cooper said Biden's working class roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, resonate with voters across the political spectrum. "He's not poll-driven -- Joe speaks from his heart," said Cooper, noting Biden came out for legalizing gay marriage before President Barack Obama.

"I'm not concerned about the primaries -- I worry about the general election. The overarching concern is holding onto the White House," Cooper said.

Cooper said the next president is likely to nominate three or four new Supreme Court justices and if the GOP wins, past rulings on gay marriage, abortion and other human rights issues could be reversed. He also said the next president will deal with unprecedented challenges around the globe, and argued that Biden, with 43 years in Congress and the White House, is best equipped to deal with those issues.

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But Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, a leading Clinton supporter, said, "There's no rationale for Biden to enter the race. The only reason for Biden to run "would have been if Hillary was no longer viable," Jacobs said. "The debate made one thing very clear: not only is Hillary viable, but she's the best candidate to lead the Democrats."

Jacobs warned that were Biden to run, he would face the same "intense scrutiny" as Clinton. "When you think about running you're beloved; once you decide to run, you're besieged," Jacobs said.

Noting that Biden and Clinton have been friends, Jacobs said, "The only way to the nomination would be by taking Hillary out and that's just not the kind of campaign Joe Biden wants to run and I don't see him doing it."