Deval Patrick talks about labels and his last-minute presidential bid
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick shook up the Democratic presidential field when he announced his candidacy Thursday. He spoke on Saturday to thousands of California Democrats gathered in Long Beach for the party’s convention. Afterward, Patrick, 63, sat down with The Times to talk about why he’s running for president. The interview was edited for clarity and length.
In late 2018, you said you weren’t running for president. What changed?
We were ready to go in 2018, and two weeks, maybe 2 ½ weeks from announcing — we had a plan, a team that was coming together — and my wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer. And that was and should have been my first priority, our first priority. She was diagnosed early, thank God, and is cancer free today.
The Democratic presidential field is huge, with candidates from across the spectrum, from moderate to progressive. What is the void you see that you believe your candidacy can fill?
First of all, I’m not sure that any of the labels, with all due respect, really work anymore. They certainly don’t work for me. I don’t fit in a box. I will say I don’t think that there’s another candidate that has the range of life and professional experiences I have had, and I bring those experiences to the way I make decisions by trying to understand other people’s perspective so I can get on to the goal we’re trying to achieve. And I think we’ve got a moment right now, when the public’s appetite is for ideas as big as the challenges we face. … It means we have to bring some humility alongside the brilliance and creativity in the field. A willingness to acknowledge that we don’t have to agree on everything to work together on anything, which is exactly the politics we’re dealing with today in Washington and the kind of politics that got us here.
Is your candidacy a rebuttal of former Vice President Joe Biden, whom some have described as a shaky front-runner?
My candidacy isn’t about the other candidates. I respect them. I know many of them. I’ve known Joe Biden since he was chair of the Judiciary Committee, and I was a nominee for the civil rights division. He’s always had my back, and I’ve tried wherever I could to have his. I think my focus hasn’t so much been on the other candidates as it has been on the electorate.
You were a major supporter of Elizabeth Warren’s when she first ran for Senate in Massachusetts. Why are you running against her?
She’s a friend. … This isn’t about anyone or any of the other candidates. It’s about a set of skills that is uniquely broad and about a moment that could be lost if we don’t bring a range of skills to it, and if we don’t bring some humility that says, ‘You know, somebody else actually might have a better idea about the means.’ … But I would ask you to remember, and I’d ask your readers to remember, we take just one example like healthcare: Every single Democrat in this field wants healthcare that is of high quality and affordable for every single American, and the other side doesn’t. And that’s the thing to remember.
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Healthcare is one of the big debates in the Democratic primary. I know you just announced and haven’t rolled out policy yet, but where do you fall in the debate over “Medicare for all” or a public option?
We will get you more detail as we roll out policy positions; but healthcare is, I think, one area where I have an unusual amount of experience. You know that my predecessor [Gov. Mitt Romney] signed the bill. It took effect the day I took office. Ninety-nine percent of our citizens in Massachusetts have healthcare today. I don’t think there’s another state in America can who can claim that outcome.
Other candidates have effectively been running for years. How do you pull together a team and raise enough money so late?
They’ve been campaigning for years, and in some cases the public is tired. You know, it’s a strange thing: Those of us who follow politics, who cover politics, we think of it as late. Regular people don’t think so. I’ll give you one very encouraging factoid: Within a couple of hours of the website going up, we had volunteers from every one of the 50 states.
You’re obviously close with former President Obama and his team. Did you speak with Obama about running? Did he or his advisors urge you to run?
I won’t get into what he said. But I’ve talked to him at length, year and a half or more ago, when we were kind of gearing up and I was trying to sort it out. …He has seen up close how brutal it is to run, so I wouldn’t exactly say it was about encouraging. But he’s a patriot. And so am I. And I think, at any time but maybe especially at a time like this, patriots need to step up and offer to serve.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama and Democrats criticized GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s work for Bain Capital, painting him as a heartless corporate raider. I could see one of your rivals using Obama’s words about Bain in an ad against you. (Patrick said he left the private equity firm’s payroll on Wednesday.)
They should use my words because I was asked about it at the time, as you can imagine as co-chair of the [Obama] campaign. And I didn’t buy it then. I don’t buy it now. You know we villainize people and industries, sort of climbing over others to get what you want. It’s not [my] kind of politics.