MILWAUKEE — Governor Deval Patrick strolled into campaign offices here, shaking hands, posing for pictures, and cracking jokes with about two dozen volunteers in a room papered with a map of Milwaukee and “Wisconsin for Obama” signs.
“It’s a character election, not just the character of the candidates, but the character of the country,” Patrick told the room. “And are we going to be a country where we all have common cause and common destinies? Or are we going to be what is on offer from the other side: Just this idea that everyone is on their own, good luck. I think we’re better than that.”
Patrick has been ratcheting up his activities on the campaign trail, while attempting a delicate dance as he seeks to avoid alienating Massachusetts voters used to seeing their governors strive for a higher office and a broader national platform.
Even while he said in an interview he had no ambition for higher office, Patrick made a two-pronged appeal Tuesday for President Obama’s reelection in Iowa and Wisconsin, a pair of battleground states.
The Massachusetts Democrat penned an op-ed column that was printed in Tuesday morning’s edition of the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper and one that is influential in the Iowa presidential caucuses. He followed that up with a pair of appearances in Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee, both in the home state of Mitt Romney’s new running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Patrick will also travel out of state next week on Obama’s behalf, before addressing the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in two weeks.
In an interview with the Globe, Patrick said he had grown wary of the personal attacks that have guided the election. “I hate it, I hate it,” he said.
But in the next breath he criticized the Republican ticket in blunt terms. He said Paul Ryan was “running to be the president of the Tea Party,” and he called Ryan’s budget plan “empty of truth.” He called Mitt Romney “a chameleon candidate . . . who has simply adapted to what he thinks he needs to, to be the Republican nominee.”
Together, Patrick said, the Republican ticket “seems to be a say-anything campaign.”
To date, the governor has largely made television appearances on behalf of the president or spoken to the party faithful at fund-raising events. Obama campaign officials, however, have expressed an interest in having him do more for the president, aides said.
“Patrick’s close relationship with the president, personal story, and experience as governor following Mitt Romney gives him a unique perspective and voice speaking on behalf of the president across the country,” Obama spokesman Michael Czin said. “With Governor Patrick on the trail, it also means that there’s someone on the trail from Massachusetts who’s willing to discuss the state’s groundbreaking healthcare law that paved the way for ObamaCare.”
Patrick has a unique perspective as the first Democrat to serve as governor after 16 consecutive years of Republican leaders, including Romney. He also has been charged with enacting the state universal health care law that Romney signed into law in April 2006, about nine months before the Republican left office and launched his first run for the White House.
“Watching him from a policy point of view walk away from the best thing he did as governor, which was health care reform, and embrace all these other views that . . . that I want to believe that he is smart enough to know are empty makes me question whether he actually wants to do the job, as opposed to just having the job,” Patrick said in the interview.
In his op-ed, the governor cited health care as the number one reason he plans to vote for Obama. The governor also cited the president’s work on the auto industry bailout, ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military, killing Osama bin Laden, and cutting middle-class taxes.
Aides said the governor wrote the column personally and asked his spokesman to find a venue for it. They said the Register agreed to publish it a week ago and coincidentally chose to print it today.
In Wisconsin, Patrick first made a stop Tuesday morning in the capital city of Madison for a roundtable discussion with senior citizens about health care and the impact of the proposed Romney-Ryan budget.
In the afternoon, he stopped by the regional Obama for America field office and then sat down for a series of interviews with local television reporters to offer his view of Romney’s record as governor.
“I’m a good surrogate,” Patrick said in the Globe interview. “I’m not running it on my own; I’m taking instruction. But the president’s record is long, impressive, and barely told.”
Volunteers here seemed to have only a vague idea of who Patrick was. But most were impressed by the visit, even if it took a little explanation to note that he was a governor. “It’s a saying young people have: It just got real,” Naomi Williams, a 28-year-old from Milwaukee, said several minutes before Patrick was scheduled to arrive.
Patrick was campaigning on Tuesday with Representative James Clyburn, who said the current Massachusetts governor is the best surrogate the Obama campaign has to critique the former Massachusetts governor.
“I don’t know what he may run for in the future, but I do know it would be a shame if he did not continue on this political journey,” said Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina. “I don’t think he’s where he’s going to be. I think he has more.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.