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Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick makes a late bid in the 2020 presidential campaign

Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick makes a late bid in the 2020 presidential campaign

Mr. Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor, entered the Democratic primary with less than three months to go before the Iowa caucuses.
There is almost no campaign staff or ground operation. Some volunteers mobilized on one day’s notice. The announcement video was not finished until the middle of the night, and an email with instructions for Day 1 was sent to a small inner circle at 2:48 a.m.
It may not have been pretty, but former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts began a self-acknowledged long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday, filing paperwork for the primary here less than three months before the votes will be cast.
“I recognize running for president is a Hail Mary under any circumstances,” Mr. Patrick told reporters at the New Hampshire state house. “This is a Hail Mary from two stadiums over.”
Mr. Patrick’s entry comes as former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is also poised to join the field, developments that have jolted the race and highlighted the growing anxiety among some Democrats that the 18-person field is more rich in quantity than quality.
In different ways, Mr. Patrick and Mr. Bloomberg pose a threat to Joseph R. Biden Jr., challenging the former vice president for the moderate path to the nomination. Mr. Biden continues to lead in most national polling, but his status is less clear in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, which has inspired restlessness among centrists desperate to thwart the progressive candidacies of Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
All factions in the Democratic Party are united in the desire to defeat President Trump, but there remains little consensus on how best to do that. There is even less agreement over the best candidate as none of them have demonstrated broad appeal in a party torn across generational, racial and ideological lines. Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders have promised policy-driven, transformational movements. Mr. Patrick positioned himself in a more traditional mold, a moderate espousing the rhetoric of unity.
“I think that there is a once-in-a-lifetime appetite to bring solutions big enough for the challenges we face,” he said, “but more than that, we must use those solutions to heal.”
Mr. Patrick sought to portray himself as an alternative to the leading candidates from both wings of the party. Of Mr. Biden, he said, “The instinct that his campaign seems to have, that if we just get rid of the incumbent we can go back to normal — that misses the moment.”
Mr. Patrick said Ms. Warren was running the “best” and “most disciplined” campaign of the 2020 presidential candidates, but he predicted she would struggle to get her agenda enacted if elected — and that voters were looking for an alternative.
Staking out more moderate positions, he said he did not support “Medicare for all,” but did back a so-called public option; that he was in favor of eliminating or vastly reducing student debt but said that there were “other strategies than we’ve heard about” to do that.
He distanced himself from a wealth tax on the richest Americans, a focal point of Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders candidacies.
“I don’t think that wealth is the problem — I think greed is the problem,” he said, adding that “taxes should go up on the most prosperous and the most fortunate,” but “not as a penalty.”
He also said he thought that Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey had the “right message” but had not gained traction with voters. “I have a record of delivering,” he said.
Skeptics said their campaigns should be a warning to Mr. Patrick. Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker have not yet broken through to black voters with an Obama-esque message of unity, even after months of campaigning and several nationally televised presidential debates.
Mr. Patrick and former President Barack Obama have been political allies for more than a decade and have remained friendly. In recent weeks, Mr. Obama has told people he thinks highly of Mr. Patrick but that his entry into the race was coming “very late,” according to two people who have spoken with the former president. Mr. Obama sees building a strong organization, especially in Iowa, as a kind of compulsory exercise for a serious candidate, these people said.
Discussing the race with Mr. Patrick, the former president covered the same talking points he had in his conversations with other candidates who have sought his counsel, according to a person with knowledge of their interaction: Campaign outside your political base, stay true to your beliefs and keep beating Mr. Trump in front of mind.
“He didn’t ask for anybody’s blessing,” said Valerie Jarrett, the former senior adviser to Mr. Obama, referring to Mr. Patrick. Ms. Jarrett, who is friends with Mr. Patrick and publicly urged him to run last year, praised him as an “outstanding leader” but stopped short of offering an endorsement — taking care to note that he’s entering “an already strong Democratic field.”
Mr. Patrick’s entry — and his targeting of Mr. Biden — will nevertheless surely test allies of Mr. Obama, as both candidates will claim to be an extension of the former president’s legacy. Mr. Obama, a person close to him said, has spent more time offering assistance to Mr. Biden and his staff than other campaigns, but that was less as a sign of a preference for Mr. Biden’s candidacy than his desire to offer personal support for a man he views with affection.
Still, Mr. Patrick, who considered joining the race last winter before deciding against it, faces daunting challenges. He must hire staff, build a fund-raising operation, meet the polling and donor thresholds necessary to make presidential debates and grow his name recognition in a few short months time.
Mr. Patrick only began changing his mind about running in the last week, according to Democrats familiar with his thinking. At least one person close to him did not know until last weekend when Mr. Patrick had summoned some of his advisers to a meeting.
The former governor began piecing together his own staff, which includes a strategist who worked for Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign, Abe Rakov, who will be his campaign manager, and Rosy Gonzalez Speers, a former aide, who will serve in a senior capacity. During a conference call with donors and allies Thursday, Mr. Patrick misstated the name of Mr. Rakov, referring to him as “Gabe,” according to multiple people familiar with the call.
The bare-bones operation hastily put together his announcement video and in the early morning, just a few hours before the video would go live, Ms. Gonzalez Speers emailed a small group of her fellow Patrick alums.
“I know some of you are fielding a lot of incoming from people who want to help,” she wrote, before promising that talking points were on the way and asking them to donate to the nascent campaign. “Any amount helps,” she wrote.
The electoral map provides some hope for Mr. Patrick. New Hampshire, which holds the first primary, is next door to the state he previously governed; in South Carolina, the fourth voting state, black voters are expected to make up a majority of the primary electorate.
However, Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders also have New England ties. And as the third black candidate in the race, Mr. Patrick will also have to prove he can cut into Mr. Biden’s sizable advantage with black voters, something Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris have not been able to accomplish even after 10 months of campaigning. Conversely, Mr. Patrick begins the race with scant name identification.
“Nobody has a lock on black voters,” said Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a state lawmaker in South Carolina. “But you need boots on the ground, some get-out-the-vote operation. So it’ll depend on what he actually puts in place.”
Mr. Patrick, 63, served two terms as Massachusetts’s first black governor, from 2007 to 2015. He grew up poor on Chicago’s South Side, went to Harvard for undergraduate studies and law school and then worked for the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
After leaving office in 2015, he joined Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, who preceded Mr. Patrick as governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Patrick’s association with Bain has started to draw fire from some liberal critics.
Mr. Patrick told The Boston Globe on Wednesday night that he had resigned from the company, effective that day. He defended the company after a question from reporters on Thursday.
“When I was co-chair of the Obama-Biden campaign in 2012, and there were all the attacks on Bain Capital on account of Mitt Romney,” he said, “I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now.”
Mr. Patrick’s gubernatorial record will also likely come under scrutiny. As governor, he lost some progressive support for his repeated willingness to compromise, and he faced criticism that he was slow to respond to the opioid crisis.
His political barriers can also not be overstated. He has missed key filing deadlines in Alabama, Arkansas and Michigan, which could cost him critical delegates even if he catches fire among voters. He would not make next week’s debate, and qualifying for the one in December will be difficult.
On Thursday, he formally filed for a spot on the New Hampshire primary ballot — one day before the deadline. His campaign announced upcoming stops in California, Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina.
Yet national recognition will be a problem. A touring student who saw Mr. Patrick leave the New Hampshire State House Thursday mistook him for Mr. Booker.