2020 Elections

Deval Patrick's eensy-weensy campaign

The ex-Massachusetts governor is trying to assemble a presidential campaign from scratch in real time. He's got a long way to go.

Deval Patrick

MANCHESTER, N.H. — To call Deval Patrick’s campaign a shoestring operation would be insulting to shoestrings.

Attend a Patrick event and there’s not a bumper sticker or pin to be found, let alone organizers with clipboards collecting names of would-be voters. His ground game looks to be nonexistent: The entire campaign appears to consist of a handful of volunteers and one publicly announced staffer, campaign manager Abe Rakov. In comparison, other campaigns have several hundred paid staffers and dozens of offices combined — and that’s just in New Hampshire.

Patrick has spent the first dozen days of his campaign trying to persuade senior Democratic leaders in the early voting states to take him seriously. They want to give the former Massachusetts governor with an inspirational life story and friendship with Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt. But Patrick has a way to go before they fully buy in.

“A lot of the talent has already been acquired here, professional talent to run his campaign,” said former New Hampshire Chief Justice John Broderick, a Joe Biden supporter. “He’s not going to be on the debate stage, most probably. It’s pretty damn difficult.”

The campaign hasn't publicized the few staff hires it has made, so far divulging only two names: Rakov and LaJoia Broughton, who will serve as South Carolina state director. The old adage about pictures and words came to mind last week when a photo of an empty classroom at Morehouse College in Atlanta appeared on Twitter. Patrick was supposed to speak there the night of the Democratic debate, but only two people showed up and the event was canceled.

At a private dinner last week in South Carolina, Patrick told a group of black Democratic insiders that a traditional campaign is coming soon, according to three people in attendance. And Rakov said the fledgling campaign is becoming more organized by the day.

“I think it says nothing about momentum or anything,” Rakov said of the Morehouse mishap. “It just shows that there is a miscommunication on one event after a very good week.”

Patrick has told supporters that his strategy is to build just enough of a campaign in New Hampshire to place near the top, then hope that momentum carries him for two weeks into South Carolina, according to a fundraising email obtained by POLITICO. But Patrick faces the possibility of not participating in a televised debate and making a poor showing in Iowa. And New Hampshire voters, who relish meeting candidates several times, may not know him enough to give him the boost he needs.

Still, some Democrats in early states aren’t ready to write off Patrick. At the South Carolina dinner, Patrick quizzed members of the state’s Democratic Black Caucus about potential operatives who aren’t committed to other candidates. Patrick didn’t appear to be in a big rush, they said, focused instead on finding the right fits.

“First of all, the lateness of his entry in the race has absolutely nothing to do with it,” said Johnny Cordero, chairman of the caucus. “As far as we’re concerned, that’s not a disqualifier. My grandmother used to say there’s a difference in being in time and on time. So he’s on time as long as he made the filing time.”

“There is a narrative in the media that, you know, Biden has got this thing wrapped up,” added Michael Bailey, another member of the caucus. “Well, Biden has the support of African American voters. The No. 1 reason is because of his affiliation with President Obama, but Patrick has the same affiliation.”

Nevada looks less hospitable to Patrick’s eleventh-hour campaign.

With the holiday season on tap, time is running out there to build an organization before the Feb. 22 caucus, said Laura Martin, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Other campaigns have been working the state for months, Martin said. And Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren have a history helping other candidates in previous elections, building familiarity and credibility.

“I think that even with all of those folks who may have different challenges of their own, his challenges might be too hard to overcome,” said Shaundell Newsome, a Las Vegas businessman who is active politically. Biden and Harris have been courting his endorsement for months, Newsome noted.

On the fundraising side, longtime Patrick allies are jumping in to help ramp up his big-dollar donations. While his competitors have spent months banking money, building donor lists and glad-handing contributors at events, Patrick — who last ran for office in 2010 — is just starting to rekindle relationships with past supporters.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who started October with $25.7 million and $33.7 million in the bank, respectively, have amassed huge war chests heading into the primaries. Even former Vice President Joe Biden, who has struggled with fundraising, has held multiple high-dollar fundraisers per week this fall.

Patrick is planning to do few in-person fundraisers, a person working with the campaign said, because he needs to spend the bulk of his time meeting voters. Allies hope he will catch fire on the trail and build a following of online donors, though he does not start with a base. And it will be difficult for Patrick's campaign to build a broad fundraising network this late in the primary, a Democratic bundler based in New York said, at a time when some donors are uncommitted but many others have chosen candidates to support.

“It’s a pretty drastic thing for people to pivot” at this point, the bundler said. “But he’s got to pay for the campaign. He’s not Bloomberg. We’re going to have to start seeing the math.”

Still, some loyalists have started stepping in to help Patrick’s cause, making phone calls and even pleading on Facebook for money in an attempt to help the campaign get off the ground.

One top Boston-area donor who has thrown his weight behind Patrick is John Fish, CEO of Suffolk Construction Co., the largest building company in New England.

“The field, needless to say, is crowded, but there is no one candidate who has differentiated themselves,” Fish said in an interview. Patrick, he said “is doing it for the right reasons” and “is the most effective campaigner, by far” of those in the race.

Though he doesn’t plan to spend the bulk of his time raising money, Patrick and his wife, Diane, plan to attend a fundraiser next week at the home of Joshua Boger, founder and former CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, one of the largest biotechnology companies in Boston.

The event is being billed as the last time Patrick and his wife will be in the same room in Massachusetts until March 2020. It suggests contributions of $5,600 or $2,800, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by POLITICO.

Co-hosts of the event include longtime Patrick allies like Democratic donor Sean Curran, former Patrick administration official and president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council Bob Coughlin, Corvus Insurance founder Phil Edmundson, and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, among others.

While acknowledging Patrick has an uphill climb, Boger pitched him as a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump and offered a veiled critique of the liberal campaigns of Sanders and Warren.

“Deval has a realistic, if long-shot, path to the nomination,” he wrote. “More important than odds-making on that, he is the candidate who stands the best chance of trouncing Trump.”