‘The field has gotten worse’: Donors see promise in Deval Patrick bid

By Stephanie Murray, Marc Caputo and Natasha Korecki

Former Gov. Deval Patrick is considering a late entry into the presidential race, according to two sources with knowledge of his thinking, a move that could unsettle the Democratic primary field.

The Massachusetts Democrat has been reaching out to contacts in early voting states, which was first reported by The New York Times. Patrick also spoke to Joe Biden Sunday night, according to a source familiar with the call, and told the former vice president he was considering joining the contest.

Patrick is looking to announce as early as this week, according to one of the sources. To get on the ballot in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, Patrick will have to move quickly — the deadline to register for the ballot in his neighboring state of New Hampshire is Friday.

Patrick had been viewed as a prospective 2020 candidate after ramping up his political activity in 2018 by traveling to a handful of races across the country. Close advisers to Patrick, including political consultant Doug Rubin, launched a political action committee that year, the Reason to Believe PAC, aimed at "promoting Governor Patrick’s positive vision for Democrats to rally around in 2018."

But he ruled out a White House run nearly a year ago, announcing in December that the "cruelty" of the process would have a negative impact on him and his family. The Reason to Believe PAC folded earlier this year, and Rubin is consulting for billionaire Tom Steyer's presidential run.

Patrick, who served as governor of Massachusetts from 2007 to 2015, would become the fourth politician from Massachusetts to run for president this election cycle. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is among the candidates leading the field, and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) briefly pursued a bid before dropping out in August. Former Gov. Bill Weld is running in the Republican primary.

Patrick was also among the Democrats who met with former President Barack Obama at the outset of the 2020 cycle, and Obama's inner circle had encouraged him to run. Patrick was an early backer of Obama in 2008.

Patrick’s interest in the race advanced in recent weeks as top Democratic donors became increasingly concerned with the field, according to one friend who spoke to the former governor last week.

The donors, many with ties to Wall Street, see Patrick as the perfect candidate: a dynamic, African-American progressive governor who got elected in a heavily white state and who also has good ties to the business community thanks to his time in Bain Capital, the firm founded by another former Massachusetts governor and former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

“This is coming from Wall Street. They’re terrified of Warren. And these guys would help Biden. But they’ve been in a room with him up close and they have doubts,” the source said. “Deval wants this. He regrets not having done it. His wife was ill. But since then, she has gotten better. But the field has gotten worse.”

As Patrick examines his options, his potential donors are reaching out to fellow Wall Street donors, the Massachusetts hedge fund community and the Black Economic Alliance, a group that includes some members also support Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The timing of a potential entry, however, is not ideal for Patrick. Iowa is an almost impossible lift because it’s a caucus state that takes a long time to organize. He faces the same problem in Nevada. While New Hampshire is next door to Massachusetts and shares the Boston media market, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Warren have similar claims to the early nominating state.

That leaves South Carolina as Patrick’s best bet, in part because of its large African-American population. At the moment, Biden is dominant there among black voters. If Biden remains competitive in the three prior early states and Patrick campaigns hardest in South Carolina along with Harris, it sets up a scenario where the black vote could be divided, allowing the two progressives, Warren or Sanders, a better shot at winning — the exact scenario that Patrick’s backers want to avoid.

Patrick has an inspirational personal story. He grew up poor in Chicago, attended a prestigious Massachusetts prep school on a scholarship and graduated from Harvard Law School. He served in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under President Bill Clinton, and has also held senior counsel roles with Coca-Cola and Texaco.

After his governorship, Patrick went to work in the private sector at Bain Capital. But in recent months, Patrick has been burnishing his political profile. The former governor became a CBS political analyst and joined the advisory board of Higher Ground Labs, an accelerator and venture capital firm that supports progressive tech tools.