LONG BEACH, Calif. — Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick trekked across the country to attend his first Democratic Party gathering since launching a last-minute presidential campaign, and voters didn’t appear happy to see him.
Attendees at the California Democratic Party’s fall endorsing convention here Saturday greeted him with little besides annoyance, anger, or, perhaps worst of all, dismissiveness.
“I’m not going to vote for him because I don’t know anything about him,” said Pat Toth-Smith, 63, of Benicia, Calif. “I think it’s crazy.”
Patrick, who surprisingly jumped into the crowded Democratic race last week, has acknowledged his bid is a long shot or, as he called it, “a Hail Mary from two stadiums over.”
But the delegates gathered at a convention center here south of Los Angeles said they weren’t interested in providing a miracle finish to his campaign. Many were excited to see Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and California Senator Kamala Harris, who were set to speak at a presidential forum Saturday evening. Or they were disappointed that two of the front-runners for the nomination, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former vice president Joe Biden, skipped the event.
Patrick’s appearance Saturday morning only left many of the attendees mystified.
“I’m not sure why we need another candidate at this late date,” said Steve Young, 67, also of Benicia. “What’s Patrick’s issue? ‘I’m not Warren? I’m not Bernie?’ ”
Among the few voters who had heard of him, what stuck in their minds was his past five years at Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney — which Democrats used to pillory him as an out-of-touch businessman during his 2012 campaign as the Republican nominee.
“Isn’t he with Bain? Just what we don’t need,” said Paul Ahrens, 64, from Los Angeles.
Long Beach was the first stop on a four-state swing for Patrick, who is scrambling to make up ground less than three months before the Iowa caucuses. He will speak at a Democratic presidential forum in Las Vegas on Sunday, then travel to Iowa on Monday and South Carolina on Tuesday.
Patrick has not qualified for the Democratic debate in Atlanta this week and has a slim chance of meeting the polling and donor thresholds for the Dec. 12 debate.
The uphill climb Patrick faces was evident Saturday.
The cavernous arena at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center was not full when he spoke around 11 a.m., five hours before most of the Democratic candidates would speak at the presidential forum. Patrick was given a morning speaking slot along with two lower-polling candidates, former Maryland representative John Delaney and self-help guru Marianne Williamson.
On Sunday, Patrick will have the opposite problem. His speaking slot is dead last at a dinner hosted by the Nevada Democrats — at 10:15 p.m.
In the Long Beach arena Saturday, Patrick was received tepidly, with many delegates coming in and out, milling around, or fiddling with their smartphones during his five-minute speech. Still, it was better than the boos that greeted Delaney.
Patrick mentioned his upbringing on Chicago’s South Side and cast himself as a unifier during his time as Massachusetts governor.
“I am not running, my friends, to be president of the Democrats,” he said. “I’m running to be president of the United States. There is a difference. I’m not talking about a moderate agenda. This is no time for a moderate agenda. I’m talking about being woke while leaving room for the still waking.”
He did sound like an ideological moderate, but when asked later by reporters to clarify what distinguishes him from fellow moderate Biden, Patrick offered only his personal experience, including work in nonprofits, business, and government.
That “gives me a unique range of life and professional experience that I think we’re going to need given the complexity of the problems that we’re trying to fix,” he said.
Patrick continued by saying that he wants to bring “humility” to the process of running for president, going on to make veiled criticisms of his more progressive competitors.
“People in the field are really, really capable,” he said. “I have some strong opinions on what our policy positions ought to be, but I also think that we have to acknowledge that if you want to get to an ambitious goal, you have got to bring people along, and not climb over them. That’s not a way to make change that lasts,” he said.
Patrick dismissed criticism of his late start, saying there is a path to the nomination with many voters remaining uncommitted, while others are on the sidelines.
Speaking to reporters after the evening presidential forum, US Senator Amy Klobluchar of Minnesota said she thinks the field is strong and doesn’t need more candidates.
“Poll after poll shows that people like these candidates, that there are differences that are clearly being vetted out right now on the debate stage,” she said. “So I don’t understand the new people coming in, but I always say, the more the merrier.
Another Democratic candidate, billionaire Tom Steyer, said he welcomed Patrick’s entry.
“What really matters is who’s going to say something important and different, who is going to connect with voters who can pull this party together,” Steyer said. “And so if Deval Patrick wants to get in . . . he knows he’s late, but if he has something important to say then I say let’s listen to him.”
Patrick most likely came to California to project himself as a national candidate rather than woo Democrats at the state convention, said Dan Schnur, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications who was communications director for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000.
“The fact that Deval Patrick is not known in California today doesn’t matter one way or the other,” Schnur said. “The question is how well he’s known out here the day after the New Hampshire primary.”
Still, Patrick’s quick trip here shows how far he has to go to raise his profile. Delegate Monika Lee, 24, of Sacramento said she saw him in a coffee shop before the convention Saturday morning and at first didn’t know who he was. Someone else took a photo of him, so she did, too. Her friend was dismissive of Patrick’s campaign.
“There’s something about presidential races that brings out the hubris in people, who say ‘Yeah, I can do that!’ ” said Jonathan Underland, 29, sitting next to her on a couch outside the arena.
“But you know what,” Lee said, “it’s good for name recognition because look, now we know who he is.”
That wasn’t a problem for Robin Torello, 67, who is originally from Connecticut. She had hoped Patrick would enter the race months ago. But now she wondered whether he could quickly assemble the organization and infrastructure to win.
“I thought he was a good successor to Obama,” said Torello, of San Leandro, Calif. “He’s a good guy, it’s just his timing is a little off.”