PITTSFIELD — In January 2006, a former Clinton administration lawyer and first-time candidate named Deval Patrick came here, to the heart of Berkshires, and wowed hundreds of Democratic activists with a soaring address about the future of the Democratic Party.
On Sunday afternoon, at the same event hall, the five Democrats vying to succeed him as governor pitched themselves to more than 200 local activists, but stayed a bit closer to earth.
In 10-minute stump speeches that mixed biography highlights with distillations of their top policy priorities, the candidates made their cases that they were best equipped to next lead the state. Mostly eschewing grand vision, they spoke soberly about issues ranging from job creation to education to health care, many emphasizing their progressive bona fides.
“There are no great orators here, but they’re all capable candidates and they all share my values,” said Michael F. Wilcox, 67, a local activist from Alford deeply involved in Democratic politics, after the event concluded.
Wilcox, an early supporter of Patrick during his 2006 run, said he had not decided which Democrat he would back in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Lee Harrison, a Democratic state committee member from Williamstown who helped organize and moderate the event, said Patrick was “already a rock star” among progressive activists when he came to the hall on the shore of Pontoosuc Lake in 2006.
The current crop of hopefuls, by comparison, were still introducing themselves to an electorate that had not tuned in to the race until very recently, he added.
“These candidates don’t have the exposure yet. People are still learning who they are,” said Harrison.
As the crowd filed out, Mary Pat Akers, a Great Barrington Democrat who helped organize the event at the Sons Of Italy ITAM 564 Lodge — and was at the one in 2006 — recalled Patrick’s electrifying speech eight years ago.
“We’re sad to let Deval go,” she said of the governor, who has pledged not to run for third term.
Many in the crowd, which skewed older, said they had not made up their mind on whom they would support, but liked getting a chance to see all the candidates in the same place and to compare and contrast them.
Attorney General Martha Coakley played up her local roots. “It’s fun to be back home,” she said, explaining she was born in nearby Lee and grew up in North Adams.
In her remarks, she emphasized the need for economic fairness, improving education, and reducing the stigma of mental illness.
Treasurer Steven Grossman, who peppered his speech with references to local cultural and educational institutions, outlined his experience as a businessman and ticked through some of his priorities if he were to be elected governor.
He said he would boost manufacturing jobs in the state and work to make prekindergarten universally accessible to all 4-year-olds, which he called “a moral responsibility.”
Donald M. Berwick, who served under President Obama as the head of the country’s massive Medicare and Medicaid programs, worked to position himself as more liberal than his four opponents.
He said there should a renewed focus on social justice and said he was the only candidate to put single-payer health care for Massachusetts “on the table.”
Juliette Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official, invoked Patrick by name a few times in her speech, noting he chose her to be the state’s first undersecretary for homeland security. Kayyem, who was a columnist for the Globe editorial page for two years, emphasized her personal history, saying she is “the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant family,” as well as her leadership credentials.
Joseph C. Avellone, an executive at a biopharmaceutical research firm and a former chief operating officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, focused his words on the need to reduce health care costs and improve the number of jobs available in the state.
Four of the current Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor — James Arena-DeRosa, Jonathan S. Edwards, Stephen J. Kerrigan, and Michael Lake — also spoke, taking their allotted five minutes to pitch themselves to activists and to the gubernatorial hopefuls sitting behind them.
Candidates for state treasurer and attorney general mingled with the crowd in the hour before the beginning of the event, which was presented by the Berkshires Brigades, Berkshire County’s Democratic organization.
Senator Edward J. Markey kicked off the program with a passionate 19-minute speech, riffing on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for the United States and touching on almost every hot-button liberal issue from climate change to the criminal sentencing reform to the Affordable Care Act.
He received a standing ovation.
“We need to protect and strengthen Obamacare,” Markey said. “That is what Dr. King would want.”
He lauded local Democrats for helping to elect him and Elizabeth Warren to the US Senate, and said they would help elect one of the Democrats at the front of the room as the state’s next governor.
There are others, however, vying to succeed Patrick.
On the Republican side, Charlie Baker, the party’s 2010 gubernatorial nominee, is in the race, as is Mark R. Fisher, a political newcomer from Shrewsbury.
Two independent candidates have also launched bids: Evan Falchuk, an attorney and former business executive, and evangelical Christian pastor Scott Lively.
Venture capital investor Jeffrey S. McCormick, an independent, is seriously considering a run as well.Joshua Miller can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.