NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Deval Patrick enters 2020 Democratic presidential sweepstakes at the eleventh hour

Less than a week after Michael Bloomberg revealed he plans to seek the 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, anoth­er very late con­tender has stepped for­ward: Ex-Gov­er­nor Deval Patrick of Mass­a­chu­setts.

In his announce­ment video Patrick (the first black gov­er­nor in Mass­a­chu­setts’ his­to­ry) said his can­di­da­cy would focus not only on the char­ac­ter of the indi­vid­ual can­di­dates, but on the “char­ac­ter of the coun­try,” argu­ing that the coun­try needs uni­ty and a new Amer­i­can dream for peo­ple to strive towards.

Patrick has a clear strat­e­gy for estab­lish­ing him­self in the race.

Of the four ear­ly pri­ma­ry states, he plans to invest in New Hamp­shire (which he reg­is­tered for on Fri­day at the last pos­si­ble moment), where his expe­ri­ence as the gov­er­nor of a neigh­bor­ing state could give him an edge over the com­pe­ti­tion, and South Car­oli­na, where his close per­son­al and polit­i­cal links to for­mer Pres­i­dent Oba­ma might help him to woo black vot­ers who cur­rent­ly favor Joe Biden.

Deval Patrick speaks to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in 2013 (Source: MassDOT, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

Patrick served as gov­er­nor between 2007 and 2015 (Source: Mass­DOT, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

How­ev­er, there are numer­ous and sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cles in Patrick’s path.

First­ly, time will be a huge fac­tor in his run; the for­mer gov­er­nor has already missed the fil­ing dead­line for the Alaba­ma and Arkansas pri­maries, which are both Super Tues­day states, and will strug­gle to con­nect with vot­ers who have been hear­ing from var­i­ous oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates for over a year at this point.

This orga­niz­ing effort will not be easy for Patrick to put togeth­er; with the con­test well under­way, there are few expe­ri­enced Demo­c­ra­t­ic oper­a­tives who are avail­able to take jobs with a brand new pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Many of Patrick’s per­son­al allies are already com­mit­ted to oth­er cam­paigns: Doug Rubin is work­ing for Tom Stey­er and John Walsh is work­ing on Sen­a­tor Ed Markey’s re-elec­tion bid.

This lack of staff is appar­ent from Patrick­’s announce­ment video. His sto­ry of grow­ing up in an urban com­mu­ni­ty and over­com­ing chal­lenges is sim­i­lar to that of Sen­a­tor Cory Booker’s, but in com­par­i­son to Booker’s slick and ener­getic announce­ment video, Patrick’s is rem­i­nis­cent of a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion.

Even if Patrick is able to cob­ble togeth­er a com­pe­tent team, it is unclear how he would pay them. Unlike Michael Bloomberg, Patrick can’t tap a gigan­tic per­son­al for­tune to tur­bo-charge his cam­paign. Mean­while, many promi­nent, afflu­ent Demo­c­ra­t­ic donors who might have sup­port­ed him if he had com­mit­ted to a run ear­li­er are already com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing oth­er can­di­dates.

Pro­gres­sive can­di­dates such as Bernie Sanders and Eliz­a­beth War­ren have pio­neered grass­roots fundrais­ing tech­niques that allow them to avoid rely­ing on big mon­ey. But that approach prob­a­bly won’t work for Patrick.

In part, that’s because Patrick has a long his­to­ry of work­ing with com­pa­nies and indus­tries that grass­roots Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists don’t like – an oil com­pa­ny that dumped chem­i­cals in the Ama­zon­ian rain­for­est, a firm ped­dling sub­prime mort­gages in the run up to the 2008 crash, Mitt Romney’s ven­ture cap­i­tal com­pa­ny, and Coca-Cola, who at the time were hir­ing fas­cist mer­ce­nar­ies to attack labor orga­niz­ers in their South Amer­i­can plants.

Per­haps the biggest ques­tion loom­ing over Patrick’s can­di­da­cy is sim­ply, “Why?”

Patrick doesn’t seem to be bring­ing any­thing new or inter­est­ing to the race; he’s a neolib­er­al (but so are Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg), he is black (but so are Cory Book­er and Kamala Har­ris) and he’s push­ing a mes­sage of uni­ty (but then, so is prac­ti­cal­ly every can­di­date in their own way).

Fur­ther­more, despite the mis­giv­ings of wealthy Demo­c­ra­t­ic donors at Man­hat­tan cock­tail par­ties, ordi­nary Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers real­ly like the can­di­dates already avail­able (two thirds say the field is “excel­lent” or “good”).

Patrick’s ratio­nale for join­ing the race, as expressed on ‘CBS This Morn­ing’ last month, is that the Biden campaign’s sup­port was too “soft” and that the cam­paign was “con­tract­ing rather than expand­ing.” Patrick – as a neolib­er­al with a long career as a cor­po­rate lawyer – is no doubt wor­ried that a col­lapse by Biden would open the door to the nom­i­na­tion of Bernie Sanders or Eliz­a­beth War­ren.

How­ev­er, his entry (along with Michael Bloomberg’s) into the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial sweep­stakes may actu­al­ly split the neolib­er­al vote fur­ther, mak­ing it more like­ly that War­ren or Sanders could clinch the nom­i­na­tion.

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