What prompted Patrick’s longshot bid?

Impeachment could create a unique opening

DEVAL PATRICK’S late entry into the presidential race is a compelling story for the same reason that Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels have drawn in readers over the decades. There is mystery at the heart of it.

The 63-year-old, two-term Democratic governor has given the broad outlines of his policy positions and the pitch he will make to voters, but the reason why he decided to jump in nearly a year after ruling it out has yet to be fully explained.

Let’s start with what we do know. Patrick’s decision was very late in the cycle – occurring nearly five months after the first debate and less than three months from the Iowa caucuses. It was also, according to The New York Times, comically last-minute and therefore not surprisingly a bit slapdash. The paper reports that Patrick apparently only decided to run in the past week, his campaign launch video wasn’t finished until sometime in the middle of the night, and he was so unfamiliar with his new campaign manager Abe Rakov that he called him “Gabe” on a call with donors yesterday.

That all stands in contrast to the one-time corporate lawyer’s more traditional and more deliberative process for considering a presidential campaign, which ended in early December 2018 with his decision not to seek election.

After much thought and travel around the country, Patrick concluded that if he launched a presidential campaign, “the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on” the people that he and his wife Diane Patrick love. Diane Patrick had been diagnosed with uterine cancer when the former governor opted out of the race, and she is now cancer-free.

In other contexts, Patrick has also spoken about his wife as someone who keeps a check on his political ambitions. In an interview last fall with David Axelrod, who was an advisor on Patrick’s 2006 campaign, the former governor said, “I have a term-limit named Diane, who said, ‘Two terms, and that’s it.” It could be that his wife’s health was the biggest determinant in his dropping out of contention last year, and in his jumping back in yesterday.

But there are other political reasons worth exploring. The Democratic presidential field is robust, and a subset has emerged in the top tier of contenders – former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders. While Patrick will begin with stark disadvantages in name-recognition, fundraising, and the grassroots organizing he has spoken so highly of over the years, the congressional calendar could work to his advantage.

If the House impeaches President Trump, which seems extremely likely, then the question of his removal from office will go to the Senate for a trial. At that point, Warren and Sanders along with other presidential candidates Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet will all need to spend significant time at their desks in the Senate chamber – and away from the campaign trail – for six days a week during the proceedings if they remain in office. 

Biden, meanwhile, is a key figure in the case against Trump. Reams of evidence have emerged that suggest Trump pressured Ukraine to publicly launch an investigation into Biden and his familial links to the energy company Burisma so as to benefit Trump electorally. So far the Republican counter-argument has rested heavily on the idea that Biden was worth investigating, which could drag the former vice president into the mire. Perhaps, Patrick saw a unique opening brought about by the looming impeachment.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Given the long odds of victory, which Patrick has acknowledged, it’s also worth considering what effects his candidacy would have on the frontrunners, and whether that might have played into his thinking. It’s too early yet for any polling to show whose supporters Patrick might woo over to his side, but the Times, in handicapping the introduction of Patrick and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the field, notes the possibility of Patrick peeling away centrist Democrats in New Hampshire and black voters in South Carolina – where Biden is counting on winning. The fact that both Biden and Patrick have a close relationship with President Obama adds another layer of intrigue and drama.

There is of course a more straightforward answer to the question of why, when Patrick gazed upon the field of Democrats, he thought his moment was now: Ego, my dear Watson.