Originally published in The Boston Globe. Photo by Kim Leeson.
Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is considering a late entry into the Democratic presidential race, according to two people familiar with Patrick’s thinking, potentially adding another name to an already unsettled primary field less than three months before the Iowa caucus.
One person familiar with Patrick’s thinking said he is “strongly considering” running and may announce his decision this week. This person also said Patrick had reached out to former vice president Joe Biden to let him know he was weighing the move. A second person said an announcement from Patrick could come Thursday.
The New York Times, which first reported Patrick’s deliberations, said the former governor has told Democratic officials that none of the current Democrats running for president has sufficient political momentum.
That’s a concern echoed among some party elites, who are hand-wringing behind the scenes about the shakiness of early frontrunner Biden and worry that his liberal challengers, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, would run too far to the left to be electable against President Trump. Former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg is also worried about the field and weighing a run, his advisers confirmed late last week.
The window for Patrick’s decision is rapidly closing. He has already missed the deadline to be on the ballot in Alabama, a Super Tuesday state; the deadline for Arkansas, another such state, is Tuesday; and the deadline to get on the ballot in New Hampshire is this Friday.
Nearly a year ago, Patrick, 63, announced he would not seek the presidency, citing the “cruelty” of the elections process and acknowledging doubts that he could cut through the noise of a crowded and chaotic primary. “It’s hard to see how you even get noticed in such a big, broad field without being shrill, sensational, or a celebrity — and I’m none of those things and I’m never going to be any of those things,” he said then.
One obstacle was Patrick’s relatively low national profile, though he spent much of 2018 campaigning widely for Democrats in the midterms, granting national media interviews. He was the subject of lengthy profile in the New Yorker.
Patrick, the first black governor of Massachusetts, served from 2007 to 2015 and is a close friend and ally of former president Barack Obama. Like Obama, Patrick has an inspiring life story — rising from the welfare rolls in Chicago to the top levels of government and the inner sanctums of corporate boardrooms — and is seen as a skilled campaigner and powerful public speaker.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody better at campaigning than Deval Patrick,” David Axelrod, a former political adviser to Obama who helped Patrick get elected governor in Massachusetts, told the Globe in April 2018. He said at the time that Patrick could articulate a unifying message that would be a good antidote to Trump’s divisiveness.
Indeed, Patrick, who once headed the civil rights division of the Justice Department under President Clinton, had been dusting off his soaring, hopeful rhetoric before audiences last year in key primary states such as South Carolina as he stumped for other candidates. If he runs, Patrick will likely attempt to cut into Biden’s strong support among that state’s black voters, who made up more than 60 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic primary electorate in 2016.
“There’s lot of buzz about it. He has lots of friends here and I believe could fundamentally reshape the race in South Carolina if he runs,” said Tyler Jones, a Democratic strategist in the state who worked on Democrat Joe Cunningham’s successful 2018 congressional race.
Patrick’s background as a progressive but also pragmatic executive could help him stand out in the current field, argued Joshua Boger, a Democratic donor and founder of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. “I think he’s very solidly in the mainstream of the progressive side of the Democratic Party without being on any extreme,” Boger said. “But he’s actually practical. A governor has to get things done.”
But the hurdles Patrick would face should he decide to run are formidable. He is not as well-known nationally as the Democrats running at the front of the pack, or as Bloomberg. Patrick also doesn’t have anything approaching the personal resources of Bloomberg, who is worth a reported $53 billion, to help him make up ground in the fund-raising race. A federal political action committee affiliated with Patrick had no cash on hand as of April.
There’s also the matter of time. If he gets in the race this week, there will be roughly 80 days until the Iowa caucuses and 90-some days to the New Hampshire primary. Other candidates have been in the race and building organizations for a year or more — and voters in many of these states expect to see candidates multiple times before casting their ballots
Two of his closest former aides are tied up with other candidates. John Walsh, who served as Patrick’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign manager, and is a former head of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, is leading Senator Edward J. Markey’s contested reelection campaign. Doug Rubin, another close former aide who also worked on Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign, is working for billionaire candidate Tom Steyer.
“If Deval Patrick decides to run for president, I will not be a part of his campaign,” Walsh said in a statement.
Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, said the only way Patrick could pull off a primary victory is if “the Obama operation from top to bottom — all of it — gets behind him.” Even then, she added, “it would be the longest of long shots.’’
Judy Reardon, an environmental activist and longtime Democratic operative in New Hampshire, also raised doubts that Patrick would be able to threaten the race’s top contenders entering this late and without money in the bank. “Where does he think he’s going to win? If he can’t do exceptionally well in one of the four early states, you have to have just a ton of money,” she said.
Patrick also could find himself under attack from his more populist rivals over his Wall Street ties. After he left the governor’s office, Patrick went to work as a managing director for Bain Capital, an investment firm that drew attacks from Democrats after its founder and Patrick’s predecessor as governor, Mitt Romney, ran for president. His former employers include Texaco, Coca-Cola, and other corporate giants.
“The only thing worse for his chances than working at Bain is waiting this late to enter,” Brian Fallon, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton, said.
If Patrick does enter the race, he would find himself facing off against fellow Massachusetts politician Warren, who is at the top or near the top of several polls. The two have said they are friends but would operate in very different lanes of the primary, given Warren’s populist rhetoric about the excesses of Wall Street and corporate greed.
And although it’s true none of the Democratic frontrunners has managed to lock down the race yet, it’s still unclear if Democratic voters share the same questions about the field that are driving a wave of late-breaking candidates.
As governor, Patrick was credited with securing reforms in transportation, education, and ethics, and launching initiatives that stimulated the clean energy and biotechnology industries. But he was criticized for severe management failures and the death of children in the state’s child welfare system.