SOMERVILLE — Governor Deval Patrick, who had said he would not endorse in the Democratic Senate primary, threw his support behind Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday, seeking to boost her campaign as she faces continued questioning over her assertions of Native American heritage.
Patrick’s endorsement comes just three days before the Democratic convention in Springfield, where some Democrats are hoping to elbow aside Marisa DeFranco, a potential challenger to Warren, by ensuring she does not receive the 15 percent of delegates needed to earn a spot on the September primary ballot.
Massachusetts Republicanspointed out Patrick’s history of insisting he would not endorse in the midst of a contested primary and called his decision to do so now “a sign of deep panic and desperation in the Warren campaign.”
The governor said he decided to insert himself in the race because he was impressed with Warren’s grass-roots support.
“That is enormously important to me, not just from a political point of view, but from a values point of view,” Patrick said, in a press conference with Warren at her campaign headquarters.
‘It’s time for us to turn our attention to our Republican opponent, and not be so focused on each other.’
He insisted he was not trying to keep DeFranco off the ballot. Yet he urged Democrats to rally around Warren and argued that a drawn-out primary might deny the Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate a chance to fully engage Senator Scott Brown.
“It’s time for us to turn our attention to our Republican opponent, and not be so focused on each other,” Patrick said.
As Warren looked on, Patrick, a former top civil rights official in the Clinton administration and the state’s first black governor, also sought to quash the weeks-long controversy over Warren’s heritage.
“Let me say, on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth, we don’t care about that subject,” he declared, as Warren’s volunteers cheered and applauded. He gently chided the volunteers for booing a reporter who asked about the issue.
Warren has been struggling to move past questions about why she identified herself as Native American.
She has said she is proud of her heritage, but has not produced any evidence that she has Native American roots.
Warren sought to deflect questions about the issue Wednesday, saying, “I defer to the governor on this one.”
Asked several times whether the controversy had damaged her credibility, she returned to her main message: that she is running to help middle-class families.
Patrick and Warren share the same political strategist, Doug Rubin. DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, is running a comparatively threadbare campaign, but has a loyal following and has been pressing Warren to agree to four debates.
“I am disappointed [about Patrick’s endorsement], but this race is not going to be won by endorsements, it’s going to be won on the ground,” DeFranco said. She said she is capable of exciting independent voters, not just the Democratic base.
Patrick praised DeFranco as a strong woman with a positive message. He focused his criticism on Brown, whom he called a “senator for the Tea Party” and “a better politician, frankly, than any of us anticipated given his performance in the State House.”
The governor accused the Wrentham Republican of voting against summer jobs for teenagers, protecting billions of dollars in subsidies for oil companies, and allowing student-loan interest rates to increase.
Colin Reed, a Brown spokesman, responded with a statement saying Brown “is proud to be one of the most bipartisan senators in the country.”
“He’s an independent thinker who does what he thinks is best for Massachusetts and the country, regardless of party,” Reed said.
Warren’s event was carefully choreographed to convey a sense of momentum and vitality in her campaign.
Before speaking to the media, Patrick and Warren addressed about 100 of her volunteers, and applauded as a dozen of them offered testimonials about how hard they are campaigning in their communities.
Katie Forde, a 28-year-old paralegal from Jamaica Plain, thanked Warren for conveying a positive message.
“You’ve been dragged through the mud by the media and you haven’t got caught in that trap and I thank you for that, because a lot of people are hurting, and they really need you to be in the Senate today,” Forde said, sparking cheers.
Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.