So Deval Patrick has declared he is running for president. Now comes the hard part: actually running for president.
Patrick last kicked off a campaign before Instagram existed, a decade ago when he ran for reelection as governor of Massachusetts. Now he must shake off the cobwebs of being on the political sidelines, raise millions of dollars, take policy positions, qualify for ballots across the country (he already missed two state deadlines), travel to early states, hire campaign staff and make a coherent case for why he, not the two-dozen others who are running, is the best choice to take on President Donald Trump.
The odds may be long but they are not zero, which they would be if he had not entered the race.
“You can’t know if you can break through,” as Patrick said in his first interview on CBS, “if you don’t get out there and try.”
Patrick is not the only Democrat imagining himself in the White House at this late juncture: Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has begun filing to be on the ballot in some states even as his advisers say he remains undecided on making a run. Of course, Bloomberg’s status as one of the richest men in America and his willingness to self-finance his campaign makes his preparations very different from Patrick’s.
Here are some of the challenges facing Patrick and potentially Bloomberg with the Iowa caucuses only 81 days away:
— Taking policy positions
Patrick’s announcement video was panned by some on the left for its use of gauzy generalities of running “with a determination to build a better, more sustainable, more inclusive American dream for the next generation.”
On CBS on Thursday, his first interview after his early morning announcement, Patrick started to stake some of his positions. He is against “Medicare for All.” He wants to vastly reduce student debt. He said a wealth tax on assets of the rich “makes sense directionally” but that he preferred a “simpler tax system for everyone.”
But that is just the start. Other candidates, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have issued many policy papers, which take time.
— Getting on the debate stage
The debates have been widely watched affairs, drawing millions of viewers, but the path for Patrick to the stage is steep. For one thing, to make the December debate, the Democratic National Committee will require 200,000 donors — a level that Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has been running since February, still has not met. Also, candidates must hit 4% to 5% in a set number of polls.
Falling off the debate stage has been a death knell for several campaigns, as the news media and voters take them less seriously. What makes Patrick a serious candidate if he cannot qualify to spar with his rivals?
There is little sign of an appetite for fresh faces so late in the nominating calendar after nine other Democrats have already dropped out.
“Most polls show that Democratic primary and caucus voters are satisfied with their current choices and are not waiting with bated breath for new alternatives,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster unaligned in the 2020 race. “There definitely is a penalty candidates pay for waiting this long to get into the fray.”
— Hiring staff and building out a campaign apparatus
Patrick has hired a campaign manager: Abe Rakov, a veteran of Beto O’Rourke’s presidential bid. But the current leading candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Warren, have hundreds of aides on payroll across a multitude of departments, from policy experts to political strategists, social media managers to field staff in multiple states.
Then there are the necessary calls to crucial party power brokers. Patrick, for instance, made sure to call the longtime chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Raymond Buckley, to wish him happy birthday on Thursday.
But even the basics take precious time: Patrick will have to rent office space, furnish it, buy computer equipment and hire lawyers to make sure every expense is properly accounted for.
Bloomberg, who has a coterie of advisers on retainer, would face less pressure on this front.
— Raising money
If Bloomberg runs, he and Patrick would face different obstacles. While Bloomberg can pay for whatever he wants, Patrick must find not just donors but also the time to collect checks from them.
For online and small donations, the first 24 hours are particularly crucial and Patrick will soon know exactly how much appetite there is for his candidacy.
For larger donors, the limit for federal contributions in the primary is $2,800.
Entering October, the top five candidates, in terms of fundraising, have all collected between $35.5 million and $61.5 million so far this year.
There is a history of late entrants whose biggest effect on a presidential race was the splash of their announcement, including Wesley K. Clark, the former supreme allied commander in Europe for NATO, who at one point threatened to upend the 2004 Democratic contest with his late run. He quickly fizzled.
“The problem is trying to do everything at once: hire a national staff, hire state organizers, raise money, talk to media, talk to influencers and electeds, devise a political strategy and articulate a narrative and set of ideas,” said Matt Bennett, who served as director of communications for Clark’s campaign. “Those are hard to do when you have many months to ramp up and plan. It’s nearly impossible when you are entering the race in which many of your competitors have completed all of those steps.”
Of course, there was one relatively late entrant who found success: Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, who jumped into the 1992 fray in early October 1991, though that was in a very different media era.