Most voters want to see the sprawling menu of Democratic presidential candidates shrink, not grow. But that hasn’t stopped former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick from joining the overcrowded race.
Patrick, 63, is a lawyer and former executive at Texaco and Coca-Cola. After his second term as governor ended in 2015, he joined Bain Capital, the elite private equity firm Mitt Romney founded. He’s got far more business background than Democratic front-runners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. Not surprisingly, Patrick is against big government plans that Warren and Sanders back, such as Medicare for all. And like Biden, he doesn’t favor vilifying the wealthy to win working-class votes.
Patrick is also a civil rights veteran who grew up on Chicago’s South Side and worked for the NAACP after graduating from Harvard Law School. He later ran the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, from 1994 through 1997. As the first black governor of Massachusetts, Patrick could appeal to minority voters lukewarm on other Dems. He’s also a Barack Obama confidante.
But Patrick’s sterling resume doesn’t excuse his late entry in the campaign or compensate for weak name recognition. And his association with Bain could alienate some Democrats, especially Warren acolytes thrilled by her trolling of billionaires. So how can Patrick distinguish himself from the flock?
Let’s start with what he’s not:
· The sensible elder statesman (Joe Biden)
· The angry old socialist (Bernie Sanders)
· The cheerier Bernie Sanders (Elizabeth Warren)
· The fresh young pragmatist (Pete Buttigieg)
· The social justice warrior (Cory Booker)
· The folksy Midwesterner (Amy Klobuchar)
· The spirited prosecutor (Kamala Harris)
· The immigration wonk (Julian Castro)
· The tax-me-more billionaire (Tom Steyer)
· The idealist (Andrew Yang)
· The likable also-ran (Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, Julian Castro, John Delaney, etc.)
What lane is left for Patrick? As Massachusetts governor, he steered the state through the Great Recession with a tough mix of tax hikes and budget cuts, earning reelection as a mark of voter approval. He also championed aggressive action to address climate change, free community college, a national assault weapons ban, some benefits for undocumented immigrants and universal pre-school.
So he could be the business-friendly pragmatist who’s younger than Biden and more experienced than Buttigieg. He could be the Bay Stater who’s chiller than Warren. He could be the businessman who’s poorer than Steyer. Or maybe he’s the suit with the street cred.
Patrick has indicated he wanted to run all along, but bailed out late last year after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. She has now been successfully treated, opening a late door for the former governor. This explanation is more palatable than former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg considering a last-minute run simply because he doesn’t think any of the other candidates are good enough.
Both men may be betting on a multi-candidate race that leaves nobody with a majority of delegates, leading to a brokered convention next summer that could create new openings for an underdog. Even so, it’s hard to see how such late entrants could gain an edge on the top or middle tier of candidates, who have all been campaigning and talking to voters for months.
If he does get traction, Patrick could threaten Biden’s appeal to centrists and Warren’s hopes to win the New Hampshire primary, where voters tend to favor candidates they know from neighboring Massachusetts. But the race could still break in dozens of ways. Six months from now, we’ll only be talking about a handful of Democratic candidates, and a large field of contenders wants to make sure Patrick isn’t one of them.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.