vision 2020

Deval Patrick’s Bid to Win Over Democratic Power Players

Deval Patrick fields questions during a meeting of the Polk County Democrats on November 18, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Deval Patrick has hardly had the smoothest public entry to the Democratic presidential primary since he jumped in earlier this month, but behind the scenes he’s started trying to win over some of his party’s power players in a bid to fund and energize his long-shot campaign. The latest step: a small, private meeting on Friday between the former Massachusetts governor and a handful of influential figures, including prominent undecided African-American political and business leaders in New York — some of whom were close to Barack Obama — according to Democrats briefed on the closed-door gathering.

The group, which met at the Manhattan office of Advent Capital Management president Tracy Maitland, included Reverend Al Sharpton, long-serving Queens congressman Gregory Meeks, and former New York governor David Paterson, multiple people familiar with the meeting told New York. Others in attendance included real-estate investor Don Peebles — a high-level fundraiser for Obama — Sundial Brands founder and Essence magazine owner Richelieu Dennis, and investor Robert Wolf, an Obama friend and former bank executive who is now a sought-after Democratic fundraiser and a fellow Obama Foundation board member with Patrick, before the ex-governor stepped down this summer.

Patrick, a political moderate and longtime friend of the former president, had met most of the attendees before, but he used the one-hour get-together to recount his record on issues like education, infrastructure, clean energy, and Massachusetts’ economy, and to explain his vision for the long-shot campaign, which he launched in mid-November after initially passing on a run in late 2018. He explained that when he first decided to hold off on running, his wife had recently been diagnosed with cancer, but that she is now healthy. And while he underscored that he was aware a run at the nomination would be an uphill climb, he also outlined his plan to focus heavily on campaigning in New Hampshire — a next-door neighbor state for him — and South Carolina — the first state in the process with a majority black Democratic primary electorate.

“The purpose of the meeting was to provide a platform for folks to evaluate the governor, and why he got into the race when he did, and, ‘Is there a path forward?’,” said Maitland, who talked up Patrick’s ability to sway moderate Republicans. The investor explained that this was the first such meeting he’s ever held, but that he also knows Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. “I do believe there is some plausibility to a pragmatic progressive in the market right now, so I did think it was incumbent on me to provide the venue for people to give the governor full and fair consideration of his candidacy.”

The early days of Patrick 2020 have involved a barrage of public appearances as he sprints to introduce himself to as many Americans as possible before voting begins. But Patrick, who left office in 2015 and until earlier this month worked at private-equity giant Bain Capital, has also been trying to reconnect with donors and influential activists who’d indicated at least some willingness to support or consider him when he first looked at running last year. Some of the Friday meeting attendees — like Wolf — have met with many candidates in private in recent months, while Sharpton has met publicly with a range of them, as well.

Patrick, meanwhile, has spent recent weeks trying to build up a campaign staff from scratch as he travels the country. With multiple longtime advisers committed to other presidential or down-ballot campaigns, this has proven a complicated task — especially given the long odds he’s now facing. Despite a wave of interested news coverage when he first announced his candidacy, Patrick canceled an appearance at Atlanta’s Morehouse College last week when only two people showed up. And while he drew an interested crowd in New Hampshire on Monday, the day ended with a new poll of the state showing him at just one percent support, and with half of voters saying he waited too long, so that they would not consider him. Some in the field have been running for nearly a year, after all.

All of that makes Patrick’s task of raising campaign cash — and making powerful friends who can bring in more of it — all the more urgent. And it makes the job of considering his candidacy in person all the more appealing, and time-sensitive, for his potential financial backers.

“It’s important as an investor, these days. The political scene is moving the markets quite a bit — for instance, when Elizabeth Warren was surging in the polls, it affected the markets, and healthcare in particular. [And] as an American, it’s important to have an opinion on who is the best candidate,” said Maitland of his decision to host Patrick. “So, as an investor, it makes a lot of sense. And as an ordinary citizen, it makes a lot of sense.”

Deval Patrick’s Bid to Win Over Democratic Power Players