CONCORD, N.H. — Deval Patrick, who rose from childhood poverty on Chicago’s South Side to the upper echelons of corporate and government power, launched a late bid for the White House on Thursday, pitching himself as the Democrat who can unify voters in a still-unsettled primary and beyond.
The former two-term Massachusetts governor placed his name on the first-in-the-nation primary ballot, offered the beginnings of a campaign pitch heavy on idealistic rhetoric but light on policy, and immediately dinged his fellow Democratic opponents in the sprawling field.
Gathering with reporters at the New Hampshire State House, Patrick, 63, described a “once-in-a-lifetime appetite” among voters to embrace transformational policy solutions — “big enough for the challenges we face” — but a primary field, he fears, that lacks anyone positioned to take advantage of it.
“I don’t want to see us miss that chance,” said Patrick, who had considered a run last December but decided against it. “I want to offer a kind of leadership about an ambitious agenda and an opportunity, through delivering that agenda, to actually bring us as a nation back together.”
Patrick’s bid quickly came together this week, surprising — and even baffling — Democrats and former aides, with just 80 days until the Iowa caucuses. He discussed it Wednesday with former President Barack Obama, a close friend, and the same day he called Senator Elizabeth Warren, herself a leading presidential candidate, to alert her he was launching a campaign.
Patrick acknowledged the long-shot nature of the effort, saying that while a White House bid is “a Hail Mary under any circumstances, this is a Hail Mary from two stadiums over.” But he also contends that while the election calendar is quickly evaporating — he’s already missed filing deadlines for primaries in two states — there’s time yet to capture voters’ attention.
“I have not been campaigning for years like some of the other candidates, but from the voters’ point of view — a lot of them haven’t made up their minds. From their point of view, it’s not late at all,” Patrick, sporting a blue suit but no winter coat, told a crush of reporters on a cold-bitten sidewalk in Manchester. “It is a big lift to put together the organizations and to raise the fuel to get liftoff, but I’m confident we can do that.”
He immediately sought to separate himself from his “friend” Warren, former vice president Joe Biden, and the rest of a Democratic field he said is running either on “nostalgia” or “my-way-or-no-way” rhetoric.
He said Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, two other candidates of color, “are just not getting traction,” and also offered a thinly veiled suggestion that some of the progressive priorities Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders have pushed will struggle to gain appeal beyond a Democratic base.
“Each of them have contributed to improving our dialogue,” Patrick said, nodding to their push for forms of government-run health care known as Medicare for All — a proposal he doesn’t support.
“I think that if you want solutions that last, they can’t be solutions that feel to the voting public as if they are just Democratic solutions.”
Patrick also trained criticism on Biden, the centrist candidate whose shaky standing atop the field appeared to open a path for the former governor. He said the former vice president’s campaign message of “ ‘If we just get rid . . . of the incumbent, we can go back to doing what we used to do,’ misses the moment.”
The rough edges of his nascent campaign showed through at times during his first day on the campaign trail. Several aides who appeared with him in New Hampshire said they were there only as volunteers and not paid campaign staffers. While he repeatedly referred to elements of a “Democracy Agenda,” he could only promise to unveil the policy package in coming days.
But the candidate was polished and upbeat, first at the State House and later at a sandwich shop in Manchester. Amid a round of other media interviews, he staked out positions on the need to reduce student debt and increasing taxes on the rich.
“I think taxes should go up on the most prosperous and the most fortunate, not as a penalty, but because we all have a stake as a national community in building our future,” said Patrick, who resigned Wednesday from Bain Capital, the private equity firm where he has worked since leaving the governor’s office in 2015. “I don’t think that wealth is the problem. I think greed is the problem.”
After New Hampshire, Patrick plans to head to California and then three early-voting states, Nevada, Iowa, and South Carolina, though details of the travel didn’t appear to be set by Thursday afternoon.
Patrick, however, is playing catchup. He only began on Thursday to make rounds of phone calls to prominent New Hampshire Democrats, including state Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley and Senator Maggie Hassan — a process most candidates begin before their first trip to the state.
His campaign filed necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission only on Thursday, hours after he arrived in New Hampshire.
Patrick, Massachusetts’ first black governor, had considered running last year before ultimately deciding against it, citing the “cruelty of our elections process.”
He told WBUR last year that his wife, Diane, had also recently been diagnosed with stage 1 uterine cancer and had undergone surgery before Thanksgiving.
He said she’s now healthy and cancer-free, and the ambition that first helped drive him to consider a campaign never left.
“I wanted to run from the start,” Patrick said.
Once the head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department under President Bill Clinton, Patrick has also worked for corporate giants, including Texaco and Coca-Cola.
In the campaign, he’s likely to emphasize his eight years on Beacon Hill between 2007 and 2015, where he helped guide the state through the Great Recession — during which he signed into law $1 billion in tax increases while juggling deep budget cuts — and have it maintain its standing as a national leader in health coverage, K-12 education, and energy efficiency.
But he also maintained a rocky relationship with the Democrat-led Legislature, and the final years of his second term were pocked by severe management failures, notably the deaths of children in the state’s child welfare system.
To Massachusetts’ neighbors to the north, Patrick appeared to already be a known commodity despite the eleventh-hour presidential bid.
“There are so many candidates and so many positions already, but I am familiar with Patrick and there is no reason why he shouldn’t get in also,” said JoAnn Pierce, 52, of Auburn, an independent who is undecided in the primary. “I will listen to what Patrick has to say. It’s not too late.”
Andrew Hosmer, Laconia mayor-elect and a former Democratic state senator, said Patrick’s decision to run now may speak more to the race as a whole.
“It does make you think whether some Democrats are looking at this large field and starting to think that none of them can beat Trump,” he said, “and they needed to find a new candidate.”