WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has told allies he will join the 2020 presidential race, according to two people familiar with his plans. An official announcement is expected before Friday, the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary.
Patrick’s move injects a new layer of uncertainty into the contest less than three months before the first votes. A popular two-term Democratic governor with a moderate bearing and close ties to former President Barack Obama, he is starting late but with a compelling life story and political resume.
The two people with knowledge of Patrick’s plans spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
In addition to Patrick, Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, has taken steps toward launching a last-minute presidential campaign, filing candidate papers in Alabama and Arkansas. Even 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton this week said 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.”
The moves reflect uncertainty about the direction of the Democratic contest with no commanding front-runner. Joe Biden entered the race as the presumptive favorite and maintains significant support from white moderates and black voters, whose backing is critical in a Democratic primary. But he’s facing spirited challenges from Patrick’s home-state senator, Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, progressives whose calls for fundamental economic change have alarmed moderates and wealthy donors.
Patrick could present himself as a potential bridge across the moderate, liberal and progressive factions — as candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker are trying to do.
But the former governor faces significant hurdles to raise enormous amounts of money quickly and to build an organization in the traditional early voting states that most of his rivals have focused on for the past year. And he’ll have to pivot to the expensive and logistically daunting Super Tuesday contests, when voters in more than a dozen states and territories head to the polls. Bloomberg’s team has said they will skip the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to focus on the Super Tuesday roster.
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 debate rules set by the party.
Those dynamics left some prominent Democrats questioning Patrick’s viability, while some existing campaigns privately offered outright mockery and derision.
“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, said he hadn’t heard from Patrick or his representatives. “People are fine with the field,” Hinojosa said, arguing that donors and media are mistaken to think that rank-and-file Democrats see Biden, Warren and others as unable to take down President Donald Trump.
Besides, Hinojosa said, “most of the people you need to build out a campaign have already chosen sides.”
A former managing director for Bain Capital, Patrick has close ties to Wall Street donors. As the first black governor of Massachusetts and only the nation’s second elected black governor since Reconstruction, Patrick also could run as a historic boundary breaker trying to dent Biden’s support among African Americans — though Harris and Booker, the only two black Democrats in the Senate, have been unable to do that thus far.
A Biden aide confirmed that Patrick had talked to Biden in recent days about the possibility of entering the race, though it wasn’t clear Wednesday whether the two men had talked since Patrick had decided that he would run. A Booker aide said Wednesday that Patrick had not called the New Jersey senator.
Patrick has remained active in politics since his term as governor ended in 2015.
During the 2018 midterm elections, he traveled across the country in support of Democratic candidates, raising his national profile. “He’s a dynamic speaker,” Hinojosa said, recalling Patrick headlining a Texas Democratic fundraiser ahead of the midterms. “But that’s the last we’ve heard from him.”
Patrick also campaigned for Doug Jones during Alabama’s contentious 2017 special election for U.S. Senate.
Last year, some of Patrick’s supporters and close advisers launched the Reason to Believe political action committee, “a grassroots organization dedicated to advancing a positive, progressive vision for our nation in 2018 and 2020.” The PAC held meetups across the country, including in early presidential primary states.
By December, however, Patrick cooled to the idea of a presidential bid.
“After a lot of conversation, reflection and prayer, I’ve decided that a 2020 campaign for president is not for me,” Patrick posted on his Facebook page at the time. Patrick said he and his wife worried that the “cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey.”
The PAC was formally dissolved earlier this year.
Patrick, a close friend of Obama’s who campaigned for him, has positioned himself over the years as slightly more moderate than some on the Democratic left.
After Trump’s election, Patrick’s initial criticism of the Republican president was somewhat less pointed than other Democrats offered. “We need our presidents to succeed,” he said, while still expressing concern about what he described as Trump’s belittling of those with opposing points of view.
Patrick also urged the party at the time to look in the mirror, saying that “the outcome of the 2016 election was less about Donald Trump winning than Democrats and our nominee letting him do so.”
Early in his career, Patrick served as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration and later worked as an executive at Texaco and Coca-Cola. Since leaving the governor’s office, Patrick has worked as a managing director for Bain Capital — a company co-founded by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Patrick’s predecessor as governor.
Patrick’s Massachusetts record is mixed. His successes include helping oversee the 2006 health care law signed by Romney that would go on to serve as a blueprint for Obama’s 2010 health care law.
Also considered a success: a 2008 initiative that committed Massachusetts to spending $1 billion over 10 years to jump-start the state’s life sciences sector.
There were rough patches, including turmoil at the state Department of Children and Families following the deaths of three children.
Patrick was also forced to publicly apologize for a disastrous effort to transition to the federal health care law during which the state’s website performed so poorly it created a backlog of more than 50,000 paper applications.
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Peoples reported from Concord, N.H.