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Democrats doubt plausibility of Patrick presidential run

The two-term governor’s decision to seriously reconsider a presidential bid is puzzling prominent state and national Democrats and even allies, who said Tuesday he faces immediate, if not impossible, hurdles to mounting a successful campaign for his party’s nomination.John Blanding/File 2010/Globe Staff

Appearing on national television in September, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick said his preferred presidential candidate is as interested in policy as uniting people, and could build a platform beyond simply bashing President Trump.

Months later, it appears Patrick may have settled on that candidate: Deval Patrick.

But the two-term governor’s decision to seriously reconsider a presidential bid is puzzling prominent state and national Democrats and even allies, who said Tuesday that he faces immediate, if not impossible, hurdles to mounting a successful campaign for his party’s nomination.

“He’s a very decent human being. I just don’t know how the hell he raises $25 million in the next 100 days while putting an organization together,” said Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman who competed in the 2004 Democratic primary.


“He knows this game, he’s no dummy,” he added. “If you’re going to do this, the time was a year ago.”

Patrick’s consideration of a campaign, described by sources close to him but not yet confirmed by Patrick publicly, quickly sent ripples through his still-tight political network, where many were ready to stand with him last year when he first said he was eyeing a run.

Many Democrats in the state were disappointed when Patrick then opted against it in December, but “now it’s kind of late in the day,” said Philip W. Johnston, a former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. And, he said, Massachusetts already has a strong candidate in Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Now, with rapidly approaching deadlines to file paperwork in key states, it’s not yet clear what basic trappings of a campaign Patrick has built or what support he’s lined up, should he leap in with less than three months before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.


Patrick on Tuesday pulled out of a “fireside chat” he was scheduled to give Wednesday at an investors conference in Colorado Springs. A spokesman for Bain Capital, where Patrick works, sent an e-mail late Tuesday to the Globe saying Patrick would not be attending.

Rosy Gonzalez Speers, who has remained a close adviser to Patrick since helping manage his political action committee, did not return calls or text messages Tuesday. Other attempts to contact Patrick were not successful.

Patrick, 63, is widely regarded as a skilled campaigner and gifted orator, able to connect one-on-one as well as with a large crowd.

David Axelrod, who advised Patrick during his first run for governor in 2006, said it is now up to Patrick to articulate what he offers voters that the other candidates in the crowded presidential field lack.

“Deval is a uniquely inspiring guy who speaks very much the language of community, which is something that is the antithesis of Trump. And I’m sure that’s what he would try to bring to the race,” Axelrod said, before noting that, “there are others who are running similarly.”

“It is a long shot if you get in at the beginning; it’s certainly a longer shot if you get in late,” he added. “But he obviously feels he has something to say.”

Patrick has already detailed his thinking on both the race and the candidates themselves, thanks to his brief appearances in recent months as a pundit for CBS.

Last month, Patrick called former vice president Joe Biden’s support “soft,” saying “it feels like his campaign is contracting rather than expanding.” He’s also indicated he doesn’t support a full pursuit of government-run health care — as some, such as Warren, have pushed — saying the private insurance sector remains important for research and innovation.


Patrick, speaking on CBS after the October presidential debate, also floated the idea that the strength candidates were demonstrating in polls then could well be fleeting, but that voters would more fully focus on the race, perhaps when there are fewer candidates.

“I suspect that moment will come soon,” he said.

Patrick has also laid out what he believes a Democratic candidate should be pursuing: “Someone who is interested in policy,” he said in September, “but is above all interested in leading us back” to common ground.

“What is our vision for how we serve not just the people who voted for Democrats but everybody?” Patrick said.

A number of Massachusetts Democrats expressed surprise — even incredulity — that Patrick was contemplating such a dramatic about-face at this point in the race.

“For a campaign to enter the race at this stage, what you need is a breakout, magical moment to reintroduce yourself to voters. And those are really hard to come by, given the DNC rules [for qualifying for a debate] and all the different sources of media,” said Steve Kerrigan, a former lieutenant governor nominee who once ran the Democratic National Convention.

Strategists say that aside from a late start, Patrick’s biggest vulnerability could be his role at Bain Capital, the private equity firm where he has worked since leaving the governor’s office.


During the 2012 campaign, Democrats flayed Mitt Romney, a Bain cofounder, for his work at what they painted as a “vulture capital” firm responsible for buying up companies, dismantling them, and selling off the pieces, while kicking heartland workers to the curb.

Patrick’s role at Bain involves a specific fund focused on impact investing, a growing field in which managers seek to balance financial returns with social good.

Patrick can lean on his eight-year record on Beacon Hill, where he completed a series of legacy-defining moves including remaking the state’s Transportation Department, signing a $1 billion bill stimulating the state’s biotechnology sector, and helping fight to keep same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

The state’s first African-American governor, he also quickly rose to become a popular national political figure, and wielded influence well beyond Massachusetts’ borders, campaigning for Barack Obama and helping raise money for like-minded Democrats throughout the country.

But he also left a complicated record. The state’s struggles amid the Great Recession hamstrung the grand vision he laid out at the start of his two terms, and his second four years were marked by his often rocky relationship with the Legislature and a late stretch of management problems.

A campaign could also bring renewed scrutiny on his family. Patrick’s ex-brother-in-law was sentenced to more than six years in prison after he was convicted in June of kidnapping and raping Patrick’s sister. And efforts by state officials to register his then-brother-in-law as a sex offender were a flashpoint in his 2006 gubernatorial campaign.


It’s an episode he appeared to hint at on CBS when asked for his opinion on how Biden handled questions about his son, Hunter .

“When anyone’s family get pulled in, having to defend their choices and their behavior is always hard. I’ve had that experience,” he said, before quickly adding: “Obviously on a smaller scale.”

Liz Goodwin and Andy Rosen contributed to this story. Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.