Vice President Joe Biden’s appearance at the Port of Charleston was designed to hail the bipartisan spirit of making South Carolina globally competitive.

But then a dose of 2016 crept in.

“I wouldn’t have this job if not for the longshoremen,” Biden said, giving a shout-out to the labor crowd who attended Monday’s harbor-side gathering, taking spots up front.

Whether Biden runs for president in 2016 is yet to be determined, but his fact-finding visit to the Palmetto State can easily be viewed as a springboard into what many see as a potential duel with Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary.

Some say the White House fight is already here.

“Every time they cross the line going out of a state, it’s a campaign thing,” said Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who was at the ports event Monday that was held a day after Biden also visited Iowa.

Fowler added, “Of course you don’t want to admit it or talk about it, but there’s a plan.”

Biden, 70, has not said whether he intends to launch a third bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, but so far, 2016 doesn’t look competitive. A national presidential poll released Monday listed Clinton, 65, as the overwhelming Democratic frontrunner, with about a 65 percent following. Biden was a distant second, at 10 percent, according to the CNN/ORC International poll.

Others in the survey included U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 7 percent; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with 6 percent; and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at 2 percent.

While on paper, Biden appears to lag far behind here, he does have supporters in South Carolina, some of whom drove for hours to hear him speak for about 20 minutes.

State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, has enjoyed a long relationship with Biden, and said the vice president called him at least six times when he was stationed in Afghanistan with the S.C. National Guard to see how he was faring.

“If he’d ask me, I’d encourage him to run,” Smith said at Monday’s event.

Smith added that nothing about South Carolina’s primary should be taken for granted, pointing to Newt Gingrich’s win over what many assumed would be a Mitt Romney win in the state’s 2012 GOP contest. “It’s not a lock in South Carolina,” Smith said.

Other Democratic leaders said they saw no need for what could be a protracted and expensive primary fight in 2016, adding that Clinton and Biden should agree to cooperate now.

“I’m looking for a team,” said state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston. “That’s the ticket to me.” He added, though, that he would prefer Clinton take the top spot on the ticket.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.