Welcome to our recurring series “Who The Fuck Are All These Fucks?” in which we profile, in brief, each of the 2020 candidates for president. This series is not meant to be exhaustive, and you’re encouraged to look into each candidate on your own.
NAME: Deval Laurdine Patrick
CURRENT JOB: Managing Director, Bain Capital
PREVIOUS JOB: 71st Governor of Massachusetts
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: To make “ok boomer” illegal, I assume
A native of Chicago, it was a scholarship to Milton Academy, located just south of Boston, that would change the trajectory of young Deval Laurdine Patrick’s life. He graduated from Milton and went to Harvard, then Harvard Law, and then he joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Patrick worked briefly in private practice, becoming the partner of a Boston law firm, before President Bill Clinton appointed him assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1994.
It was a meteoric rise for Patrick, whose life began with a single mother in Chicago’s South Side. His father, Laurdine “Pat” Patrick Jr., was a jazz musician who played with the Afrofuturist jazz composer Sun Ra. Pat Patrick left the family when Deval was young; his permission was required for Deval to go to Milton Academy and he refused, saying it would take away his black identity. Deval Patrick was accepted anyway.
The first time he met Bill Clinton is when Patrick – then working for the NAACP – sued him over Arkansas’ voting laws. After Clinton became president, he tapped Patrick as United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. He served in that role for three years before returning to the private sector.
Nearly a decade later, in 2005, Patrick announced his candidacy for Governor of Massachusetts. A year later, he became the state’s first African-American governor, taking his oath of office on a Bible gifted to John Quincy Adams by the freed slaves of the Amistad.
What was Governor Patrick like? Well, he touted casinos as a way to generate revenue for a state that already… had quite a bit of revenue, which was seen as a way to counter casino gaming in Connecticut and Maine and the possibility of gaming in New Hampshire.
Patrick had a lot of lofty goals but for the most part, his tenure in Massachusetts was something of a caretaker governorship. When it emerged that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would have a budget deficit without either more state funding or a fare increase, Patrick was able to push through a slight increase in state funding that would push the problem into his successor’s term. Patrick also pushed for energy regulation reform, but lawmakers balked and refused to back changes.
Governor Patrick won re-election in 2010, serving as the state’s governor until 2014, when he stepped down. There was speculation that Patrick – a close friend and ally of President Barack Obama – might run for president in 2016, but he declined. Four years later, there was speculation again that he might run for president, but he, again, declined.
Which makes you wonder why we’re here.
Deval Patrick formally announced his candidacy today, November 14, 2019, at a time after several candidates have already dropped out. When he declined to run a year ago, he said it was because he was concerned that “the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey.” Maybe those people have since clarified to Patrick that they’re okay with it. Maybe he doesn’t care about them anymore. Who knows?
What we do know is that Patrick called former Vice President Joe Biden before making his announcement. Patrick sees Biden voters as the ones likely to jump to his campaign, especially black voters who like Biden’s association with Barack Obama. And he sees Biden donors jumping, too: they’ve been wary of Biden’s inability to push aside challengers like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and outlier polls that show candidates like Pete Buttigieg ahead of Biden are nerve-wracking when you’ve put a couple million on the line for the ex-VP.
Patrick was critical of Biden in his campaign launch, saying that the Biden campaign is all about “nostalgia,” while other front-runners Sanders and Warren are running on big ideas but said “it’s our way, our big idea, or no way.” Instead of Medicare for All, he’s talked up a public option for healthcare, something that was originally intended to be included in the Affordable Care Act; Patrick seems to think this is more feasible.
But, on the hand, Patrick seems to think his candidacy is feasible. There is a clear path for him: first or second in New Hampshire, then first in South Carolina. These are possible if he can get New Hampshire voters away from Sanders and Warren and if he can push Biden out of the way to claim South Carolina’s sizable black community. But it’s not going to be easy, “and it shouldn’t be,” Patrick acknowledges. Just about every candidate is gunning for Joe Biden and many of them are ideologically similar to Patrick, but Biden’s front-runner status hasn’t been seriously affected yet. Bernie Sanders won a massive 60.4% of New Hampshire in 2016, and both he and Elizabeth Warren are very popular there. Less popular is Bain Capital, the firm where Patrick worked after leaving the Massachusetts State House.
Is there a place for Deval Patrick? There could be. Immediately, he feels like a good VP pick for Joe Biden (at 63, he’s considerably younger than Biden) or like a decent attorney general or even U.S. Secretary of State. And, had he jumped into the race months ago, he might be a contender for the nomination.
Patrick feels like he occupies the same space as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, except that Booker is a sitting senator and Patrick works at an asset management firm. But, as FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr., argues, Patrick is probably closer to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg:
“I think the real opening for Patrick is essentially to replace Pete Buttigieg as the candidate for voters who want a charismatic, optimistic, left-but-not-that-left candidate. Patrick, I think, is betting that there’s a “Goldilocks” opportunity for him — “Buttigieg but older,” or “Biden but younger” — a candidate who is viewed as both safe on policy and safe on electability grounds by Democratic establishment types and voters who just want a somewhat generic Democratic candidate that they are confident will win the general election.”
But his bid still feels motivated by donors and party Democrats. Some of them might be concerned that Hillary Clinton is seriously considering a third presidential bid. Others might be worried that Joe Biden might not have four years left in him. And others might see Michael Bloomberg’s potential and almost certainly doomed bid as a sign that, until there’s a clear front-runner, anyone and everyone will keep piling into the primary. So there’s a real motivation to find a candidate that can satisfy donor concerns, and Deval Patrick might be that person.
Voters, on the other hand? They think this is a pretty good primary. 65% of Democrats say the 2020 candidate field is good or excellent. That’s compared to 51% in 2016, 54% in 2008, and 44% in 2004. Patrick’s candidacy depends on convincing two-thirds of Democratic voters that no, actually, you don’t like the field. Can he do it?
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