CONCORD, N.H. — Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick stepped onto the presidential campaign trail Thursday and immediately sought to separate himself from Senator Elizabeth 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.
After filing paperwork to appear on the New Hampshire ballot alongside his wife, Diane, Patrick bounced from commentary on his friend Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders to Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, two other candidates of color he said “are just not getting traction.”
He also offered a thinly veiled suggestion that progressive priorities Warren and Sanders have pushed will struggle to gain appeal beyond a Democratic primary.
“Each of them have contributed to improving our dialogue and frankly our ambition as Democrats, and that’s a terrific, terrific thing,” Patrick said, nodding to their push of forms of government-run health care known as Medicare for All.
“But,” he said, “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.”
The analysis, delivered during an approximately 40-minute session with reporters at the New Hampshire State House, was a stark display of Patrick’s willingness to directly take on his opponents in a bid to bolster his own pitch — an approach made all the more notable given the aversion of others, such as Warren, to often jab at primary rivals.
“In many ways it is felt to me watching the race unfold that we’re . . . beginning to break into sort of camps of nostalgia, on the one hand, and big ideas, sort of my-way-or-no-way on the other,” Patrick said. “And I think we have to be about how we bring people in.”
Asked whether his comments that part of the 2020 field is too nostalgic is meant to be a knock on the 76-year-old Biden, Patrick said he is a “big, big fan” of the former vice president.
But he said Biden’s campaign message of “ ‘if we just get rid . . . of the incumbent, we can go back doing what we used to do,’ misses the moment,” Patrick said.
“The one truth, in my opinion, that candidate Trump spoke in 2016 was when he said that conventional or establishment politics isn’t working well enough for most people — and by the way, that’s the same thing Senator Sanders was saying and it’s the same thing Barack Obama said a decade and a half ago,” he said. “And it’s still true.”
The comments marked the beginning of the two-term governor’s attempt to cut a more moderate, unifying tone amid the populist rise of Warren. He’s also trying to explain why, with approximately 80 days until the Iowa caucuses, he decided to launch a campaign at all, including one that lacks the campaign cash and operational trappings of many of his opponents.
Patrick said he called Warren on Wednesday night to inform her of his run — “kind of a hard conversation,” he said — and lavished praise on her campaign as the “best and most disciplined” operation in the field. (Patrick also called Biden this week before officially jumping in.)
He also was quick to put distance between his and Warren’s priorities, indicating that she may be boxing herself into ideas that will be harder to pursue should she win the Democratic nomination.
“I think the actual business of advancing an agenda once elected is a different kind of undertaking,” he said. “In my experience, you’d have to start that work in the campaign, not after the campaign, [and] not run a different campaign in a primary than you do in a general.
“That’s not a comment just on my friend, Senator Warren, and her and her campaign,” he later added. “It’s a comment on how the conversation is evolving in the field. And it’s a big, big ‘watch out.’ ”
Asked whether Warren is too divisive, Patrick put the brakes on playing pundit: “I don’t want to be a pundit on other’s people’s campaigns. . . . I am not trying to climb up by pulling anybody else down.”