Can De­val Pa­trick’s long-shot bid ease Democrats’ anx­i­eties?

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIV­E - Clarence Page Clarence Page, a mem­ber of the Tri­bune Ed­i­to­rial Board, blogs at www.chicagotri­bune.com/pages­page. [email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @cp­time

Hav­ing fol­lowed De­val Pa­trick’s sto­ry­book rise from child­hood poverty on Chicago’s South Side to be­come the sec­ond black gov­er­nor in U.S. history, I have a nag­ging ques­tion about his an­nounce­ment that he’s run­ning for pres­i­dent: Why now?

He ap­par­ently wants to res­cue the party from it­self, although polls in­di­cate most Democrats may not feel in need of res­cu­ing. The Dems are be­ing pushed to the left by pop­u­lar pro­gres­sive can­di­dates such as Sens. El­iz­a­beth War­ren and Bernie San­ders. But for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den has been re­mark­ably durable, de­spite mis­giv­ings about his early de­bate per­for­mances.

En­ter Pa­trick days after for­mer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed papers to meet Alabama’s early dead­line, although spokes­men said he still was mak­ing up his mind.

Each ap­pears to think that he can of­fer some­thing that’s miss­ing in the large field of 17 that ex­isted before Pa­trick en­tered, although polls show most Democrats say they are sat­is­fied with the field they have. Yet many also are ner­vous and di­vided, after years of wait­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to un­seat Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, about who’s the best can­di­date to do it.

Pa­trick brings a lot of pos­i­tives to the race. He has an in­spir­ing life story, raised largely by a sin­gle mother, earn­ing a schol­ar­ship to the ritzy Mil­ton Academy in the eighth grade and grad­u­at­ing from Har­vard Law School and be­ing ap­pointed assistant at­tor­ney gen­eral for the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion of the Jus­tice Depart­ment in 1994.

In 2007, he was elected gov­er­nor of Mas­sachusetts, a first for that state and only the sec­ond black gov­er­nor in the na­tion.

He also served later as co-chair of Barack Obama’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Mem­bers of Obama’s in­ner cir­cle had en­cour­aged him to run for pres­i­dent in 2020, but he turned it down, cit­ing con­cerns for his fam­ily. Now that he has changed his mind, Obama’s net­work of ad­vis­ers and po­ten­tial donors is ex­pected to help him build a cam­paign in early pri­mary states that be­gin vot­ing in Fe­bru­ary.

But he also has some bag­gage for a man seek­ing the nom­i­na­tion in to­day’s Demo­cratic Party. The first prob­lem I hear men­tioned by some Democrats is his past ties to Bain Cap­i­tal, the pri­vate eq­uity firm that now-Sen. Mitt Rom­ney,

Obama’s 2012 Repub­li­can op­po­nent, founded before he went on later to be­come gov­er­nor of Mas­sachusetts. Obama ridiculed Rom­ney’s in­volve­ment with the sort of big-money Wall Street firm that many blamed for the fi­nan­cial col­lapse of 2008.

Democrats have grown only more crit­i­cal at a time when pro­gres­sives such as War­ren and San­ders nip at Bi­den’s heels. Th­ese days, Pa­trick needs to brace for at­tacks from the left, even as he is ad­mired by many oth­ers as an ac­com­plished busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive who could run the econ­omy with a so­cial as well as fi­nan­cial con­science.

In in­ter­views, he has taken on that is­sue by call­ing on the rest of us to “stay vig­i­lant or, as the kids say, ‘stay woke,’” while also reach­ing out to those who have not reached the same level of so­cial aware­ness and are “still wak­ing.”

That’s clever, but rest as­sured that he will be called upon to put more meat on those bones of an idea. He also can claim suc­cess with run­ning the Mas­sachusetts health care plan be­gun by for­mer Gov. Rom­ney and em­u­lated by Obama for the Af­ford­able Care Act. But he also has to ac­count for the com­plaints that he, like Obama, en­dured for the botched roll­out of that plan’s early days.

Bi­den still leads the pack, es­pe­cially among African Amer­i­cans — a cru­cially im­por­tant bloc in Demo­cratic ranks. But his dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance in early de­bates has helped San­ders and War­ren, in par­tic­u­lar, to chal­lenge his po­si­tion.

South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg also has moved up, partly be­cause many see him as a promis­ing sec­ond choice if Bi­den loses steam. Sens. Ka­mala Har­ris and Cory Booker may al­ready have lost mo­men­tum.

Still, we must re­mem­ber, no ac­tual votes have been cast yet. Hav­ing whit­tled their al­ready-crowded field down from about 25, it re­mains to be seen whether pri­mary vot­ers want to hear from yet an­other can­di­date — or two — with less than three months to go before the pri­mary vot­ing of­fi­cially be­gins.

But pres­i­den­tial con­tests al­ways sur­prise us. Pa­trick’s bid is a long shot, but some­times long shots can change a party’s di­rec­tion. I am think­ing of our cur­rent pres­i­dent, for bet­ter or worse. Now the big ques­tion for Democrats is whether they can use Trump’s name to unify their fac­tions as well as Trump used Hil­lary Clin­ton’s name to unify the Repub­li­cans.

TER­RENCE ANTONIO JAMES/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Pa­trick, left, at­tends the 2019 Obama Foun­da­tion Sum­mit at the Ka­plan In­sti­tute at the Illi­nois In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Chicago.

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