WASHINGTON — Deval Patrick is offering a blunt defense of his record as his rationale for entering the race for president, saying that as a two-term governor, he’s already proved his ability to deliver on “a lot of the stuff” that other candidates in the race only “have plans for.”
“A lot of the stuff that voters say they're interested in, and that candidates have plans for, I’ve already done. So for me it's not about having a plan or ambition — it's about having results. In New Hampshire, folks know what I'm talking about. Those proof points are familiar to them and people are open to it,” Patrick told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, DC. “It is something I bring to the race that the other very capable candidates don’t.”
Patrick has said that he doesn’t see any part of his campaign’s approach or its message as a “critique” of other candidates. But his jab at the use of strictly policy proposals as the foundation for a pitch to primary voters is evidence of how he plans to use his record as governor to persuade voters. And it shows a strategy, especially in New Hampshire — which shares a border and media market with Massachusetts, where Patrick served as governor for eight years — for Patrick to dislodge the candidate many will see as the nameless target of his dismissal of “plans”: Elizabeth Warren.
Patrick has been in Washington making stops to campaign, mostly to small audiences. On Sunday night, that included a holiday cocktail party for the Washington Association of Black Journalists.
In the interview, Patrick said that as governor, he focused his leadership on bringing together disparate forces to implement things such as health care enrollment, an overhaul of the commonwealth’s criminal justice system, and measures addressing climate change. As Patrick and his campaign see it, the Democratic primary to this point has been overly meandering and has failed to reach Americans looking for a different type of political leadership.
Democrats, Patrick said, “are talking about the right things, but I actually have some results to point to. And in New Hampshire, people understand that, because they've been watching this over time or they're being reminded of it.”
Patrick will be rolling out proposals of his own that he said will center on a robust agenda expanding fairness, democracy, and opportunity. He believes that message can easily translate in New Hampshire. But the message has to contend with the top candidates in the race, who have been campaigning longer and have a legion of supporters and a national infrastructure that Patrick is scrambling to put together a little under two months before the voting begins in Iowa.
Patrick ran for governor in 2006 as a relative unknown, but with a strong résumé at the Justice Department and in business that included stints at Coca-Cola and Texaco. There are countless parallels in the political circumstances that led Patrick to run for governor and now for president. Patrick wants to appeal to voters’ apathy, a strategy that yielded a result all those years ago that he said is currently playing itself out in the early days of his campaign.
Once again, he said, people are telling him that what he says sounds great, but voters are dubious about whether he can really win.
“And it's so interesting because the people who can make it happen are sitting right there in front of you — you know, they’re voters!” he said.
“I'm trying to remind people, as I did in Massachusetts, that this isn't about somebody else's idea about what the outcome should be. It's about yours. And if you think what I'm about is what you’re about, then don't take a chance on me, take a chance on your own aspirations. I've got to persuade people of that — again.”
Patrick, who is still largely unknown in the presidential race, said he’s wary of thinking of the primary as a popularity contest and is generally suspicious of political celebrity culture.
“I get that part of what our culture has become, and I reluctantly came to understand as governor, that the job is a blend of substance and performance art. But I think it's a terrible disservice to the people you serve if it's only performance art. I can do the performance art if I have to, but I’m not going to act out ... I'm not going to act just to draw attention to myself,” he said.
“The things that touched me most are the ways in which the work — not the performance, but the work, the output — leaves things better [and] moves people's lives forward. I'm going to try to convey that. And, you know, in this culture, that might itself be distinguishing enough.”
Patrick said his message about his time as governor has a "different" effect in early-voting states like South Carolina, where he will visit Tuesday, his campaign said Monday.
“I think [the familiarity] is different in South Carolina, [but] that’s part of the introduction. It's different in Iowa and in Nevada. But it’s OK. My whole life I’ve been meeting people in settings where they didn’t know my history. And the combination of telling mine and being interested in theirs is an opportunity to bond. That is important to me on a human level, and it turns out to be pretty valuable on a political level.”