Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. moved even closer to entering the presidential race on Tuesday, telling a gathering of firefighters who serenaded him with chants of “Run Joe Run” that he was on the verge of announcing his campaign.

“Save it a little longer: I may need it in a few weeks,” Mr. Biden told members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who also waved black-and-gold signs with the same plea, adding with a grin, “Be careful what you wish for.”

But in his remarks to the group, the former vice president suggested he was ready to fulfill their wish. After an introduction from his wife, Jill; praise from Harold Schaitberger, the head of the firefighters’ union; and a video of Mr. Biden hailing organized labor that ended with a flashing “Run Joe Run” graphic, Mr. Biden praised unions for building the country’s middle class.

He also veered far from discussing issues of overtime and collective bargaining, sounding out themes about American renewal that could form the basis of a bid for the Democratic nomination.

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