WASHINGTON — After months of campaigning and debates meant to whittle down the number of contenders, the Democratic presidential field is getting ... bigger.
Despite there being a menu of people with a wide range of ages, experience, and policy views, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick formally entered the race Thursday, becoming the 18th candidate, with ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg making moves to join him.
Patrick’s entry was a manifestation of some Democrats’ fears that even with all their options, no one has the right stuff to beat President Donald Trump: That the party’s front-runners either can’t go the distance (Joe Biden) or are too liberal to win (Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders), and that the rest of the field isn’t strong enough.
Within those fears is also an implicit criticism of the many trailing candidates, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has positioned himself to become the alternative to the race’s two leading liberals if Biden, the former vice president, fades.
Even one of the key lines in Patrick’s opening campaign video — “We build as we climb” — seemed to echo the unifying themes Booker espouses in his tagline, “Together, we will rise.”
Political analysts and Democrats aligned with Biden and Booker largely shrugged off Patrick’s entry Thursday, saying the former governor doesn’t have a broad base of support and it’s too late for him to raise the money he would need.
Patrick, speaking as he filed paperwork to get on the New Hampshire primary ballot, argued that none of the other Democrats has the right message.
“In many ways, it has felt to me, watching the race unfold, that we’re beginning to break into sort of camps of nostalgia on the one hand, and big ideas, sort of ‘my way or no way,’ on the other, and I think we have to be about how we bring people in, how we bring people along," he told reporters in Concord, N.H., making clear references to Biden; Warren, a Massachusetts senator; and Sanders, the independent Vermont senator.
Patrick was asked how he would differentiate himself from Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris, who also are running with inspirational, non-ideological messages and as alternatives to Biden. “I have a record of delivering,” he told the New York Times.
Indeed, Booker and Harris (despite one early surge) have been stuck in the third tier, with few signs of momentum. But some political operatives and analysts were skeptical that Patrick would have any more luck, entering just three months before the first primary votes are cast.
“I’m not sure what he’s bringing to this field that is new,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
If voters wanted a message of unity and togetherness, they would have rallied to Booker by now, he said.
“Booker has been extremely well-received by the voters who have met him, and they like his message. It’s just his message is number four or five on the list of priorities they have," Murray said. "So another messenger isn’t going to make that message any more relevant.”
Murray pointed to his own poll, released last week, that found 74% of Democratic voters satisfied with the field. Bloomberg, he said, is widely disliked, while Patrick is barely known.
“I don’t see much of a reason for either of these candidates right now getting in," Murray said. “The voters are telling us, ‘We’ve got what we need here.’”
Along with Booker and Harris, both African American senators in their 50s, in the field are two Midwesterners touting their appeal to moderates, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Julian Castro, a Hispanic Texan; and businessman Andrew Yang, to name just a few.
Booker, who is in danger of not qualifying for the Democratic debate in December, has pitched himself to people worried about Biden’s strength — though Patrick seems eager to veer into that lane.
Instead of seeking new options, allies of the trailing candidates say Democrats should give those contenders a closer look.
“Voters are going to realize that the solution they’ve been searching for is right under their noses, and has been for a while,” said New Hampshire State Sen. Jon Morgan, one of Booker’s early supporters in that state.
Booker, Morgan said, has spent months reaching out to voters and building campaign staff in New Hampshire and Iowa. He doubted that anyone new to the campaign could match that effort before Democrats in those states decide the first two contests.
As for Biden, supporters downplayed the threat of Patrick’s cutting into the former vice president’s support among African Americans or moderates.
“First, he doesn’t have the resources. He’s not going to be able to compete in any of the first four states,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell, who backs Biden. “It doesn’t matter how great you are — if you don’t have the resources, no one knows you.”
Rendell added that if Harris and Booker “haven’t cut into the vice president’s African American votes in places like South Carolina, what makes you think Deval Patrick could in three months?”
Black voters are a critical part of Biden’s coalition, and are a key to the election in South Carolina, the fourth state to vote in the nomination contest. South Carolina Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said Biden’s support with African Americans there is solid, but Patrick might be able to peel off black voters who are undecided or aligned with candidates other than the former vice president.
Malcolm Kenyatta, a Pennsylvania state representative from North Philadelphia who supports Biden, noted the number of moderates who have left the race, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio — and those still around.
If anything, Kenyatta argued, Patrick might appeal to some of Warren’s supporters, given their shared home state of Massachusetts.
“Delaware is a very black state, and Biden [who lives there] has run and earned the support of black voters over and over again," Kenyatta said. “Massachusetts is not a very black state.... Gov. Patrick has won elections in the past because he won voters that are very much in the Pete Buttigeig [and] even Elizabeth Warren wing of the party, and obviously he won a state that Warren has also won twice.”
On the whole, Kenyatta said, he’s surprised at the late entries: "Just speaking as a voter, there are too many people, and I really wish the field would contract.”