BOSTON — Former two-term Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick says a 2020 run for the White House is on his “radar screen” — the firmest indication yet that the political confidant of Barack Obama and nation’s second elected black governor is seriously weighing a White House bid.
Patrick has already begun casting himself as a more centrist Democrat compared to the party’s liberal luminaries, including fellow Bay State resident Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
And while the self-described “pro-growth Democrat” says he’s far from a final decision, his musings are already casting light on his strengths and possible vulnerabilities.
IS HE OR ISN’T HE?
After relinquishing the governor’s office in 2015, Patrick kept a low profile, accepting a post at Boston-based Bain Capital, the firm founded by former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.
In recent months, Patrick has been stepping back into the political landscape.
He campaigned for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones during Alabama’s contentious special election last year, offered to help Democrats running in 2018 and made a brief appearance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, D.C.
“It’s on my radar screen, but it’s a huge decision,” Patrick said during a Feb. 28 interview with KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri about a possible run. “It’s a huge consideration, I think, particularly when I think, you know, I’m still a kid from the south side of Chicago.”
Patrick is no fan of President Donald Trump, but his criticism has been less pointed than other Democrats.
“I am old-fashioned in the sense that I think nobody should cheer for failure. We need our presidents to succeed,” Patrick said, quickly adding, “I would like him to be replaced by a Democrat.”
Patrick said he’s particularly concerned about the tone Trump has set, including his “belittling of opposing points of view and the individuals who hold them.”
But Patrick also said Democrats are partially to blame for Trump’s election.
“The outcome of the 2016 election was less about Donald Trump winning than Democrats and our nominee letting him do so,” he said.
A MIXED RECORD
Patrick’s record as governor is mixed.
His successes include helping oversee the 2006 health care law signed by Romney that would serve as a blueprint for Obama’s 2010 health law.
Another success is a 2008 initiative pushed by Patrick that committed Massachusetts to spending $1 billion over 10 years to jump-start the state’s life sciences sector.
There were also rough patches, including turmoil at the state Department of Children and Families following the deaths of three children.
Patrick was also forced to publicly apologize for a disastrous effort to transition to the federal health care law during which the state’s website performed so poorly it created a backlog of more than 50,000 paper applications.
A STRONG CAMPAIGNER
Patrick’s successful campaign for governor in 2006 was all the more remarkable since it was his first run for office after serving as the top civil rights official at the U.S. Justice Department under President Bill Clinton and as an executive at Texaco and Coca-Cola.
Patrick’s success came in part from his skill at connecting with voters and energizing crowds — a skill on display during the 2012 Democratic National Convention when he challenged members of his party to “grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe.”
Paul Watanabe, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, said it’s reasonable for Patrick to consider a run.
“He was able to leave office on his own terms, rather than be defeated,” Watanabe said. “His electoral success is something that’s a big plus for him.”
A MASSACHUSETTS MILESTONE
Patrick was the state’s first African-American governor, and while his race was less of an issue during his time in office, Watanabe said it will be on the mind of some voters if he runs for president.
“Of course it’s going to be an issue,” Watanabe added. “The fact that he is an African-American candidate is going to be a critical issue to the extent that race remains a critical part of the agenda for the nation.”
For now, Patrick is holding his political cards close to his vest.
“My current focus is to figure out how … I can help some of the candidates who are running in 2018,” Patrick said, adding: “I’m an amateur. I’ve run for one thing two times.”
Massachusetts voters are curious about Patrick’s plans.
Jinny Fitzgerald, a 65-year-old pediatrician from Somerville, said she voted for Patrick twice, but was disheartened to learn after he was finished “how much of a budget deficit was left behind … and also still what terrible shape (the Department of Children and Families) was in.”
Fellow Somerville resident Yolonda Neal said anybody’s better than Trump.
“If he wants to go ahead and run for president and his ideas … benefit lower class or middle class families, I’m all for it,” the 27-year-old said.
Another Massachusetts resident impressed with Patrick’s election skills is Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who lost to Patrick in 2010.
“He is one heck of a campaigner,” Baker said Thursday on WGBH-FM. “He would be a formidable candidate.”