Unless they have reason to know it’s not actually happening, the report that former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is considering a late entry into the presidential race has to cause some jitters in the far-flung precincts of Team Biden. But what makes the report more credible, according to the New York Times, is that Deval called up Biden himself and told him about it:
Mr. Patrick told Mr. Biden in a phone conversation last week that he was weighing a bid, according to a Democrat directly familiar with the call, but did not indicate that he had fully decided to run. Mr. Patrick’s conversations with other party officials was confirmed by two other Democrats with knowledge of those talks.
Mr. Patrick has told party leaders that he doesn’t think any of the candidates running have established political momentum and that he thinks there is an opening for somebody who can unite both liberals and moderate Democrats, according to Democrats who have spoken to him.
Those with long memories may recall that as the 2020 field was first forming, lots of associates of Patrick’s very close friend Barack Obama were urging him to join the race, as Politico reported in August of 2017:
Barack Obama is nudging him to run. His inner circle is actively encouraging it. Obama World’s clear and away 2020 favorite is sitting right here, on the 38th floor of [Boston’s] John Hancock Building, in a nicely decorated office at Bain Capital …
Obama strategist David Axelrod has had several conversations with Patrick about running, and eagerly rattles off the early primary map logic: small-town campaign experience from his 2006 gubernatorial run that will jibe perfectly with Iowa, neighbor-state advantage in New Hampshire and the immediate bloc of votes he’d have as an African-American heading into South Carolina.
Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s close adviser and friend, says that a President Patrick is what “my heart desires …”
Obama veterans light up at the mention of Patrick’s name. In self-assurance, style and politics, they see the former Massachusetts governor as a perfect match, the natural continuation of Obama’s legacy.
Patrick decided against a 2020 bid in December of last year, citing his wife’s health problems and unhappiness about the “cruelty of the election process.” Now, like Michael Bloomberg last week, Patrick appears to be reconsidering that decision, and for a similar immediate reason: the filing deadline for next February’s New Hampshire primary is this Friday, November 15. Any former Massachusetts governor running for president would not want to miss the chance of cashing in on all that exposure to New Hampshire voters consuming Boston media.
But why does Patrick think there’s an opening for someone like him at a time like this? You’d have to guess he doesn’t see anyone else in a strong position to run away with the nomination, and figures that his natural advantage in New Hampshire and the potential ability to rally African-Americans in later contests (something Kamala Harris and Cory Booker don’t seem to be doing) could make him a viable contender. Like other moderates actually in or potentially joining the race, Patrick may be hungry for Biden’s voters and consider them very much up for grabs.
Patrick isn’t just close to Obama personally; some critics of both men (most notably progressive gadfly Thomas Frank, whose 2016 book Listen, Liberal attacked a technocratic Democratic ascendancy as having betrayed the working class) consider the former governor and current Bain Capital exec as Obama’s centrist ideological heir, even more so than Biden. It’s unclear how Patrick’s late entry would be received among Democratic activists, donors, and opinion-leaders.
But again, the potential viability of a Patrick candidacy would probably depend entirely on signals from Obama World. It’s unlikely the former president would endorse him and thus all but doom Joe Biden’s candidacy. If Biden faded anyway, it might be a different proposition. But the question you have to answer is whether Patrick would even be considering a race without Obama’s tacit approval. If Patrick does lurch into the race, you can expect a lot of attention to be given to the reaction of every Democratic political figure who’s ever worked for — or probably even played hoops with — the 44th president. It could be the ballgame for both Patrick and for Joe Biden.