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Deval Patrick Joins the 2020 Race: ‘This Won’t Be Easy, and It Shouldn’t Be’

Former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts officially entered the presidential race on Thursday, adding an 18th candidate and an 11th-hour twist to a turbulent Democratic primary with less than three months to go before the Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Patrick’s announcement, which he had signaled this week, came in the form of a video he released early Thursday morning. In it, he said he was running for people who “feel left out” and want a future “not built by somebody better than you, not built for you, but built with you.”

“I admire and respect the candidates in the Democratic field,” he said. “They bring a richness of ideas and experience and a depth of character that makes me proud to be a Democrat. But if the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country.”

Mr. Patrick, 63, who served two terms as governor, from 2007 to 2015, and is one of the highest-profile black leaders in the Democratic Party, later appeared on “CBS This Morning” and offered his rationale for joining the race, after having passed on a White House bid a year ago.

“You can’t know if you can break through if you don’t get out there and try,” he said, adding that he wanted to bring people together.

Asked about a number of policy issues that have divided the Democratic candidates, he outlined a set of positions that, taken together, place him closer to the ideological center than the left. He said he did not support “Medicare for all,” but did support a so-called public option; that he was in favor of eliminating or vastly reducing student debt but believed there were “other strategies than we’ve heard about” to do that; and that a wealth tax on the richest Americans “makes a lot of sense directionally” but that he would push for “a much, much simpler tax system for everyone.”

“I don’t think that wealth is the problem. I think greed is the problem,” he said, noting that “taxes should go up on the most prosperous and the most fortunate,” but “not as a penalty.”

In the brief interview, Mr. Patrick also sought to immediately draw a contrast with some of the leading candidates, indirectly taking aim at former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont by echoing critiques of their approaches that other candidates have been voicing for weeks, if not months.

“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, an implicit shot at Mr. Biden’s call for a return to normalcy. “Or, it’s our way, our big idea, or no way,” he continued, taking up a criticism that Mr. Biden has leveled at Ms. Warren in recent days.

“Neither of those, it seems to me, seizes the moment to pull the nation together and bring some humility,” Mr. Patrick said.

Mr. Patrick plans to head to New Hampshire’s State House on Thursday to file paperwork to be on the primary ballot there — one day before the deadline — before moving on to California, Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina, according to a Democrat familiar with his plans.

His late entry will present Mr. Patrick with an uphill climb to the nomination. He will start with zero campaign cash, little organization and none of the polling numbers he needs to qualify for a debate.

He has waited so long that nine other Democratic hopefuls have already come and gone, part of the biggest presidential field in modern political history. He will have much less time to work with than his close friend Barack Obama did in his first presidential campaign, when he started his run 11 months before the Iowa caucuses.

And yet, Mr. Patrick may not be the last person to enter the contest; Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, has also taken steps toward entering the Democratic primary after initially ruling it out.

The moves by both men reflect unease among some Democrats around the current state of the race and underscore the fact that no candidate has yet emerged as a dominant force. Mr. Biden has been a mainstay at or near the top of the polls but has not pulled away from leading progressives like Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders, or more moderate alternatives such as Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Still, polls have shown that Democratic voters are mostly satisfied with their options in the field.

In recent days, as Mr. Patrick has begun to disclose his plans, he has told advisers that he hopes to appeal to a wide swath of voters, bridging ideological and demographic divisions that have so far cleaved the party in the primary campaign.

Mr. Patrick grew up poor on Chicago’s South Side, went to Harvard for undergraduate studies and law school and then worked for the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund. While there, he sued Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, in a voting case. He later worked for President Clinton’s Justice Department.

He then turned his career to the private sector, working as general counsel at Texaco and later taking a top position at Coca-Cola. He won the governorship in 2006 as a political outsider with grass-roots support from progressives.

After leaving office in 2015, he joined Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, who preceded Mr. Patrick as governor of Massachusetts and is currently a senator from Utah. Mr. Patrick’s association with Bain has started to draw fire from some liberal critics — and from the Republican National Committee, which called him “Mr. Bain” in an email Thursday, despite the fact that Mr. Romney was the party’s 2012 presidential nominee.

Mr. Patrick told The Boston Globe on Wednesday night that he had resigned from the company, effective that day. He also said he had spoken with Mr. Obama on Wednesday and that the former president had offered him advice.

Abe Rakov, who recently worked for former Representative Beto O’Rourke’s now-defunct presidential campaign, will be Mr. Patrick’s campaign manager.

Last year, when deciding to forgo a presidential run, Mr. Patrick blamed what he said was the “cruelty of our elections process,” and noted that his wife, Diane, had recently been given a cancer diagnosis.

She is now healthy, and Mr. Patrick seemed to suggest in his interview with The Globe that her recovery helped open the door to a new campaign. “I wanted to run from the start,” he said.

“I recognize running for president is a Hail Mary under any circumstances,” he added. “This is a Hail Mary from two stadiums over.”

In his announcement video, he offered a hint of what he hoped would be a unifying message in the months ahead.

“We will build as we climb, to welcome other teachers and learners, other seekers of a better way and builders of a better future,” he said. “This won’t be easy, and it shouldn’t be.”

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