(Bloomberg) -- Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick defended his right to join a stage with 13 other Democratic presidential candidates, telling Harry Reid and other prominent Nevada politicians that he wouldn’t be running if he didn’t see a path to the White House.
“I am not running to be president of the Democrats, I am running to be president of the United States,” Patrick told the crowd at the so-called First in the West dinner at Las Vegas’s Bellagio casino, where Reid, the former Senate majority leader, received an award.
Patrick, who just stepped down as a managing director at Bain Capital LP, entered the presidential race last week. The dinner Sunday night was one of his first appearances with fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
Other contenders shared abbreviated versions of their stump speeches, plus praise of Reid, who was given an eponymous lifetime achievement award to chants of “We love Harry!” Several, including top-tier candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, sharpened their arguments about selecting a nominee strong enough to beat President Donald Trump.
But Patrick offered few details about what distinguishes his campaign. He said he would be rolling out an agenda in the coming weeks and defended the timing of his entry into the race.
Asked by reporters if his late debut rendered his candidacy a fool’s errand, Patrick told reporters, “I wouldn’t have made the decision if I didn’t think there was a path. We are going to have to prove that not just to you, with due respect, but to voters.”
He added: “I will respect that you are skeptical. And when I prove you otherwise, I hope you will respect that you were wrong.”
Patrick has said the worry that none in the current field could put together a coalition of Democratic base voters, plus enough independents and swing voters, to win the Oval Office propelled him into the race. Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, also is considering jumping in with only 77 days before the first nominating contest in Iowa on Feb. 3.
The Iowa caucuses are followed by the primary in New Hampshire a week later, giving two overwhelmingly white states an outsize say in picking the nominee, a standard that has irked larger and more diverse states for decades.
Nevada Democrats argued this weekend that their state, which caucuses on Feb. 22, will be more critical to selecting the nominee.
“I don’t think it matters what happens in New Hampshire or Iowa because those states are not representative of our country anymore,” said Reid, who jockeyed for years to get his state to its No. 3 slot on the Democratic nominating calendar.
Candidates flocked to an office within the Bellagio to meet Reid and secure his favor.
The former Senate leader acknowledged to reporters before the dinner that for now, at least, it’s “very fluid who’s going to be our nominee.”
There’s no one definitive leader in the Democratic presidential field, with Buttigieg surging in Iowa, Elizabeth Warren leading in New Hampshire, and Biden polling strongly in Nevada, South Carolina and nationally.
So far, Buttigieg, Warren and Bernie Sanders, who also polls well in Iowa and New Hampshire, have had difficulty finding much traction with black and Latino voters, key constituencies in the Democratic primary.
But momentum coming out of the first two states could change all that, and a strong showing in Nevada -- where non-Hispanic whites made up just 48% of the population in the latest Census estimate, compared to Iowa’s 85% and New Hampshire’s 90% -- could help cement an advantage.
The message Sunday from Democrats at the Bellagio was clear: Nevada best represents the rest of the country.
“If you can win Nevada, you are on your way to the White House,” Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto said at the event. “Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are nice places, but if you want to talk to America, you come to Nevada,” she added, referring to the state’s racial diversity.
Several of the candidates used the appearance to emphasize the importance of selecting the correct nominee.
“We shouldn’t kid ourselves, it’s not going to be easy” to beat Trump, Biden said. “So we better be real careful about who we nominate because the risk of nominating someone who wouldn’t beat Trump is a nation and a world that our children and our grandkids won’t want to live in.”
Buttigieg framed his pitch on his goals for the days after Trump leaves office and maintained he is the best to defeat the president.
“Donald Trump will do anything to hold onto power,” said the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who will likely be a target at Wednesday’s presidential debate in Atlanta, given his rising poll numbers. “But his playbook won’t work on me. As your nominee, I will cut through the nonsense of this tin-pot president.”
Amy Klobuchar, who’s risen to the mid-single digits in recent Iowa polls and sees a strong performance neighboring Minnesota -- her home state -- as a pathway to greater momentum in the race, said: “We have such a chance here, Democrats, we cannot screw this up. We do not just want to win, we want to win big, and to win big, we need to bring the country with us.”
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