The two men who ran against each other for vice president in 2012 have reached the end of their decision-making at the same time. After a period of private conversations with allies and intense discussions with their families, Vice President Joe Biden has to finally decide if he wants to run for president in a three-month sprint to the Iowa caucuses, and Representative Paul Ryan has to choose whether to stay as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee or stand for speaker of the House at a time when pronounced divisions within the Republican Party will make the job extraordinarily hard.
Here's how the two compare on the precipice of their decisions.
Has he wanted the job in question?
Biden: Wanted it his whole career.
Ryan: Has never wanted it.
Biden: His wife, Jill.
Ryan: His wife, Janna.
Top reason not to do it:
Biden: Family considerations in the wake of the death of his son Beau.
Ryan: Family considerations involving his young children and the demands of the job.
Does he want to run?
Biden: Sources say he's mentally and emotionally more together than he's been since Beau died and is powered more than ever by the belief he would be the best candidate and the best president.
Ryan: He remains deeply reluctant but recognizes going for it might be unavoidable for the good of his party.
Nature of the contest:
Biden: An outside game requiring the mobilization of masses of voters.
Ryan: An inside game requiring the swaying of a few score of his most conservative colleagues.
Has waiting hurt?
Biden: Yes. He's come across as indecisive and unsure, while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both grown stronger.
Ryan: No. The failure of a plausible alternative to emerge since Ryan demurred has beaten down some of the conservative resistance to him.
Plans in place:
Biden: His advisers have privately laid out various announcement scenarios, a delegate strategy, a campaign message, top-level staffing nationally and in the early voting states, and more.
Ryan: Allies have designed a newly structured speakership that would minimize the burdens on Ryan, who has told his advisers he won't campaign for the job—the conference has to come to him by consensus.
Can he win?
Biden: Tough but doable. Democratic voters are happy with the choices of Clinton and Sanders. Biden has to convince the party electorate they need a third choice beyond Apple and Android. His best path is to perform well in the debates, improve his poll standing, and then hope Sanders wins the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary, or both, destabilizing Clinton and the race overall and allowing him to emerge from the chaos as President Barack Obama's political heir and the best hope to hold the White House.
Ryan: Tough but doable. If conservative House Republicans see Ryan as the best choice to achieve their goals—including getting rid of Speaker John Boehner—and are afraid of the chaos that will ensue without Ryan, the man who never wanted the job could be the de facto next speaker by the end of the week.