WASHINGTON, DC – Deval Patrick launched what he acknowledged to be a “Hail Mary” bid on Thursday for the Democratic presidential nomination, testing whether voters sifting through an already crowded field are open to hearing from new candidates less than three months before the primary voting officially begins.
Raised in poverty on the South Side of Chicago, Patrick made history in 2007 as the first black governor of Massachusetts. He has close ties to former President Barack Obama and his network of advisers, which could help him quickly establish contacts and raise money in the critical states that begin voting in February.
But his late entry presents significant organizational and financial hurdles. It’s also unclear whether black voters, who have largely backed former Vice President Joe Biden, would shift to him. Two other black candidates in the field, Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, are languishing in the polls.
Still, Patrick is betting there’s a narrow window to shake up a Democratic primary that has stagnated in recent months with four persistent front-runners, each of whom has glaring vulnerabilities. At a time of bitter partisan divides, the 63-year-old Patrick is positioning himself as a political leader who can work on progressive causes without alienating moderates who worry about the pace of change being advocated by some Democratic candidates.
“But I think that there has to be more than the big solutions,” he told reporters at the statehouse in New Hampshire, where he registered to appear on the ballot in the first-in-the-nation primary, expected to be held on Feb. 11. “We have to use those solutions to heal us.”
Such comments were a none-too-subtle dig at another presidential candidate from Massachusetts: Elizabeth Warren. The senator has risen to the top of the Democratic pack in recent months with calls for fundamental changes to the American economy, including a wealth tax and a shift to a government-run health care system known as “Medicare for All.”
Patrick said he spoke with Warren on Wednesday night and described a “hard conversation for both of us.” He credited her with running the “best and most disciplined campaign” in the field and praised her as “incredibly smart” and “incredibly thorough in her policy positions.”
But he suggested the scope of her proposals would be hard for a president to implement.
“I think the actual business of advancing an agenda once elected is a different kind of undertaking,” he said.
Patrick told CBS earlier Thursday that he doesn’t support Medicare for All “in the terms we’ve been talking about.”
Warren’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment on Patrick’s launch. Last week, she mentioned him as someone she would consider nominating to a Cabinet post if she were elected.
While he insisted he would not “climb up by pulling anybody else down,” Patrick offered critiques of other Democratic candidates. He said he was a “big, big fan” of Biden, but argued his campaign is too focused on simply replacing President Donald Trump and then “we can go back to doing what we used to do.”
That, Patrick said, “misses the moment.”
Patrick is the third major black candidate in the race. The other two, Harris and Booker, have struggled to gain traction in part because black voters have so far sided with Biden.
Harris and Booker are “friends of mine and I respect them and I’ve talked to them from time to time,” Patrick said.
“There are a variety of reasons why their campaigns in some quarters are just not getting traction,” he said.
His announcement comes as some Democrats worry about the strength of the party’s current field of contenders. Another Democrat, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is also weighing a last-minute bid for the party’s nomination. Even 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton said this week in a BBC interview that she is “under enormous pressure from many, many, many people to think about it,” adding that she has no such plans but still would “never, never, never say never.”
It’s also a near certainty that Patrick — and possibly Bloomberg — wouldn’t make a Democratic debate stage until January, if at all, because of restrictive debate rules set by the party. Patrick suggested Thursday that he’s fine skipping the debates.
“I’m not sure it’s something to aspire to,” he said. “I’m more interested in forums where you can actually engage with regular voters and not just ones where the moderator is tempted to treat it like a cage fight.”
Still, some prominent Democrats are questioning Patrick’s viability.
“Stop. We have enough candidates,” said Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire, which hosts the party’s first presidential primary following the Iowa caucuses.
Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, whose state boasts the second-largest number of Super Tuesday delegates behind California, argued that donors and the media are mistaken to think that rank-and-file Democrats see Biden, Warren and others as unable to take down Trump.
Besides, Hinojosa said, “most of the people you need to build out a campaign have already chosen sides.”
Patrick, a former managing director for Bain Capital, has close ties to Wall Street donors, which could emerge as a liability in a Democratic primary where voters are often skeptical of the financial sector. Patrick caused headaches for Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 when he defended Bain, which was co-founded by Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate that year.
On Thursday, Patrick said he still doesn’t agree with the attacks on Bain, but acknowledged the frustration aimed at the wealthy.
“I am a capitalist,” he said. But “there are justifiable reasons why people feel like our economy and our government has been tilted too much in the direction of moneyed interests.”
Patrick will be among more than a dozen 2020 candidates who will speak at a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party on Sunday night. He will also be appearing at a California Democratic Party convention this weekend in Long Beach, according to a person familiar with his plans but not authorized to discuss details of them.
Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Bill Barrow, Michelle L. Price, Kathleen Ronayne and Will Weissert contributed to this report.