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Deval Patrick joins 2020 presidential race: 'We will build as we climb'

Deval Patrick joins 2020 presidential race: 'We will build as we climb'

Former governor of Massachusetts becomes 18th candidate in the Democratic primary
Deval Patrick joins 2020 presidential race: 'We will build as we climb'
Former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts in Cleveland, Ohio on Nov. 19, 2018.
Photographer: Allison Farrand/The New York Times

CONCORD, N.H. — Former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts officially entered the presidential race on Thursday, adding an 18th candidate and a new twist to a turbulent Democratic primary with less than three months to go before the Iowa caucuses.

Patrick, who had signaled his intent this week, released a video announcing his campaign early Thursday morning. He then traveled to New Hampshire, where he filed paperwork for the first-in-the-nation primary there.

He said in the video that he was running for people who “feel left out” and want a future “not built by somebody better than you, not built for you, but built with you.”

“I admire and respect the candidates in the Democratic field,” he said. “They bring a richness of ideas and experience and a depth of character that makes me proud to be a Democrat. But if the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country.”

Patrick, 63, who served two terms as governor, from 2007 to 2015, and is one of the highest-profile black leaders in the Democratic Party, also appeared on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday and offered his rationale for joining the race, after having passed on a White House bid a year ago.

“You can’t know if you can break through if you don’t get out there and try,” he said.

Asked about a number of policy issues that have divided the Democratic candidates, he outlined a set of positions that, taken together, place him closer to the ideological center than the left.

He said he did not support “Medicare for all,” but did support a so-called public option; that he was in favor of eliminating or vastly reducing student debt but believed there were “other strategies than we’ve heard about” to do that; and that a wealth tax on the richest Americans “makes a lot of sense directionally” but that he would push for “a much, much simpler tax system for everyone.”

“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.”

In the brief interview, Patrick sought to draw contrasts with some of the leading candidates, indirectly taking aim at former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont by echoing critiques of their approaches that other candidates have been voicing for weeks, if not months.

“We seem to be migrating to, on the one camp, sort of nostalgia — let’s just get rid, if you will, of the incumbent president and we can go back to doing what we used to do,” he said, an implicit shot at Biden’s call for a return to normalcy. “Or, it’s our way, our big idea, or no way,” he continued, taking up a criticism that Biden has leveled at Warren in recent days.

“Neither of those, it seems to me, seizes the moment to pull the nation together and bring some humility,” Patrick said.

Later, speaking with reporters at New Hampshire’s State House, he was more direct.

He praised Biden, but 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.”

Patrick said he had had a “hard conversation” the previous evening with Warren, the other front-runner in the race and his longtime ally. He said she was running the “best” and “most disciplined” campaign of all the candidates but predicted she would struggle to get her agenda enacted if elected.

“The business of advancing an agenda once elected is a different undertaking,” he said.

Patrick positioned himself as a more formidable version of several candidates who were already in the race, the rightful standard-bearer for the hope and change wing of the Democratic Party and an heir to President Barack Obama’s legacy.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, has also cast himself in this mold. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, the race’s two other black candidates, “had the right message,” Patrick said. All have struggled to wrest black voters from Biden and only Buttigieg had caught significant traction in Iowa.

“I have a record of delivering,” Patrick said.

He introduced himself to patrons at a New Hampshire diner and students on a college bus tour, one of whom mistook him for Booker.

Patrick plans to travel to California, Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina in the coming days, according to a Democrat familiar with his plans.

His late entry will present Patrick with an uphill climb to the nomination. He will start with zero campaign cash, little organization and none of the polling numbers he needs to qualify for a debate.

Patrick said he understood the long-shot nature of a presidential candidacy announced just months before the Iowa caucuses, but he remained confident that Democrats were yearning for an additional voice.

He waited so long to enter the race that nine other Democratic hopefuls have already come and gone, part of the biggest presidential field in modern political history. He will have much less time to work with than did Obama, a close friend, in his first presidential campaign, when he started his run 11 months before the Iowa caucuses.

And yet, Patrick may not be the last person to enter the contest; Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, has also taken steps toward entering the Democratic primary after initially ruling it out.

The moves by both men reflect unease among some Democrats around the current state of the race and underscore the fact that no candidate has yet emerged as a dominant force. Biden has been a mainstay at or near the top of the polls but has not pulled away from leading progressives like Warren and Sanders, or more moderate alternatives such as Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Still, polls have shown that Democratic voters are mostly satisfied with their options in the field.

In recent days, as Patrick has begun to disclose his plans, he has told advisers that he hopes to appeal to a wide swath of voters, bridging ideological and demographic divisions that have so far cleaved the party in the primary campaign.

Patrick grew up poor on Chicago’s South Side, went to Harvard for undergraduate studies and law school and then worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. While there, he sued Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, in a voting case. He later worked for President Clinton’s Justice Department.

He then turned his career to the private sector, working as general counsel at Texaco and later taking a top position at Coca-Cola. He won the governorship in 2006 as a political outsider with grass-roots support from progressives.

After leaving office in 2015, he joined Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, who preceded Patrick as governor of Massachusetts and is currently a senator representing Utah. Patrick’s association with Bain has started to draw fire from some liberal critics — and from the Republican National Committee, which called him “Mr. Bain” in an email Thursday, despite the fact that Romney was the party’s 2012 presidential nominee.

Patrick told The Boston Globe on Wednesday night that he had resigned from the company, effective that day. He also said he had spoken with Obama on Wednesday and that the former president had offered him advice.

Abe Rakov, who recently worked for former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s now-defunct presidential campaign, will be Patrick’s campaign manager.

Last year, when deciding to forgo a presidential run, Patrick blamed what he said was the “cruelty of our elections process,” and noted that his wife, Diane, had recently been given a cancer diagnosis.

She is now healthy, and Patrick seemed to suggest in his interview with The Globe that her recovery helped open the door to a new campaign. “I wanted to run from the start,” he said.

“I recognize running for president is a Hail Mary under any circumstances,” he added. “This is a Hail Mary from two stadiums over.”

In his announcement video, he offered a hint of what he hoped would be a unifying message in the months ahead.

“We will build as we climb, to welcome other teachers and learners, other seekers of a better way and builders of a better future,” he said. “This won’t be easy, and it shouldn’t be.”

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