But none of those candidates appear to have the same appeal as Obama did in his presidential races. All are attracting 5 percent or less of the electorate in the most recent national polls. And these candidates are even struggling to get significant of support from black and Latino voters, groups that helped propel Obama to his historic presidency.
But former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, his state’s first black elected governor, seems to think he can do better.
After initially deciding not to run months ago, the Democrat entered the presidential contest Thursday aiming to build “a better, more sustainable, more inclusive American Dream.”
“I admire and respect the candidates in the Democratic field. They bring a richness of ideas and experience and a depth of character that makes me proud to be a Democrat,” he said in a video. “But if the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country. This time is about whether the day after the election, America will keep her promises."
Patrick, who served in the Clinton administration, appeared to take some jabs at the candidates leading the Democratic field, speaking in a Thursday interview on CBS, where he has been a political contributor.
“We seem to be migrating to, on the one camp, sort of nostalgia — let’s just get rid, if you will, of the incumbent president and we can go back to doing what we used to do,” he said, seeming to be describing the Biden campaign.
“Or, you know, it’s our way, our big idea, or no way,” he added, apparently referring to Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. “And neither of those, it seems to me, seizes the moment to pull the nation together.”
Patrick hopes to unify a deeply divided nation — a role remarkably similar to the one Joe Biden aims to fill. The former vice president has been able to remain on top of the polls in part because of his proximity to Obama, someone with whom Patrick also has a close relationship. Patrick’s inner circle is close to Obama’s and is said to include some who have encouraged Patrick to pursue a political career in Washington. The former governor campaigned for Obama, a fellow Harvard Law School grad, and was considered for multiple roles in his administration.
The former governor’s entrance into the race seems to rely on his belief that he can offer voters a moderate option with notable executive experience and with the diversity that the left’s base has expressed increased interest in backing. Patrick’s corporate ties from before and after his service in public office could present a challenge for him, but perhaps less of an obstacle with some voters than Biden’s history on criminal justice and gender issues, areas that have left the former senator open to criticism.
But to become a competitive candidate, much less the leading centrist candidate, Patrick is going to need a significant amount of support from black voters. Before the 2020 election, it might have been assumed that such a task would not be a hard one for Patrick, a black man who has made fighting for civil rights a key part of his political career. But one could say the same thing for Harris and Booker, the two other black candidates. Neither has been able to attract a notable amount of support from black voters. Most are backing Biden.
According to the most recent Quinnipiac University national poll, Harris is polling at 2 percent with black voters. Booker is doing even worse.
Black support for Biden is believed to be due to his association with Obama, along with voters’ familiarity with the former vice president, who has been in politics for more than 40 years. But some black voters are also backing Biden because they believe he has the ability to win some of the independents and white working-class voters who backed Trump in 2016 and may be needed to defeat him next year.
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There is little sign so far that Patrick can gain name recognition and support among more black voters, along with winning a significant percentage of independents and white working-class voters. Patrick polled at 4 percent in a May 2018 Suffolk University poll in New Hampshire, a neighboring state where he probably already has high name recognition.
A late start, with an electorate that is largely pleased with the current options, puts Patrick in an uphill battle for the nomination. But with just under a year left until Election Day, changes are likely. And there is one thing that could make Patrick’s path to the nomination a little more clear — the much coveted endorsement of Obama, something neither the former governor nor the former vice president has yet.
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