Governor Deval Patrick participated in a bus tour for President Obama’s reelection campaign this weekend, but events back home are a reminder that the road to the White House — for Obama now and, potentially, him in the future — is littered with deep potholes.
The still-unfolding state drug lab case, and the revelation that a state-regulated Massachusetts company was distributing tainted steroids causing deaths across the country, have the potential to mar Patrick’s aura of executive leadership.
That will be his calling card when he leaves office in 2014 and returns to the business world or, potentially, seeks higher office as a presidential candidate in 2016.
The governor, a prominent Obama surrogate, went to North Carolina on Friday to rally campaign staffers and volunteers both in the banking center of Charlotte and the capital of Raleigh.
He then spent Saturday making whistle-stop visits to three Virginia colleges: Hampton University, Old Dominion, and William & Mary.
University of Richmond Law School professor Carl Tobias says deploying Patrick in such a manner makes perfect sense, given his dynamic speaking style and the reaction he stirred with his address at the Democratic National Convention.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that the Obama folks are hoping to have very strong student support. That part of the state has a lot of students and it’s a heavy voting area, so he’s likely to be very helpful there,” said Tobias.
A campaign statement announcing Patrick’s participation read like one that could have been issued by his press staff back at the State House.
Obama “believes in investing in our future by reforming our schools, producing more homegrown energy, rebuilding our roads, bridges and broadband systems, and accelerating American innovation,” it said.
The “three I’s” in the governor’s own stump speech are investment, infrastructure, and innovation, as in making the spending decisions necessary to build a better-educated workforce and the industries vital to a competitive economy.
The challenge is balancing the work on the road with the problems back at home.
From managing the state budget through a recession to fueling growth industries such as biotech, Patrick has assembled a record over six years in office that would make him an odds-on favorite for reelection were he to seek a third term — something he has already said he will not do.
But in a possible future campaign for the presidency, or even a confirmation for, say, a Supreme Court nomination, problems with the state Parole Board exposed after the killing of Woburn Police Office John “Jack” Maguire, or the more recent drug cases, can mar Patrick’s leadership narrative.
The Annie Dookhan case carries the specter of freeing more than 1,000 convicted drug offenders who could commit fresh crimes. The legal system from which the Harvard Law graduate emanates, and which he could join as a justice, for example, faces an epic trek to recovery.
Meanwhile, New England Compounding Center’s distribution of tainted steroids is replete with similarly eye-catching numbers. Already more than a dozen people have died, and there is a potential that some 14,000 more people are at risk for fungal meningitis.
The twin perils underscore why the governor moved swiftly in each instance.
He brought in David Meier, a respected former prosecutor now doing criminal defense work, to oversee the investigation into the drug lab case. Meier briefed reporters on Friday while Patrick traveled.
And the oft-placid Patrick did not equivocate this past week when he accused New England Compounding of misleading state regulators by performing work outside the scope of its license.
Both the governor’s official and political staffs say that going forward, he will not be distracted even by the time he is spending prospecting for Obama — and raising his own national profile. It starts with a daily 7:45 a.m. conference call with his staff and continues with e-mails, phone calls, and meetings through the work week and weekend.
“The governor is very aware that he has a day job,” said Alex Goldstein, who runs Patrick’s political committee.
“He has been very action-oriented, and people see he has been quick and decisive and responding with the full force of the tools at his disposal.”