(Correction: Because of an editing error, a Page One headline Sunday about the results of the state Democratic Convention incorrectly said Deval Patrick had won the party nomination. The convention makes an endorsement; nomination is determined by voters in the primary election in September.)
WORCESTER -- Deval L. Patrick, a political novice whose campaign for governor has stirred the grass roots of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, won a strong endorsement at the state convention yesterday, outpacing two well-established and well-funded opponents.
After a day of nail-biting, venture capitalist Chris Gabrieli just squeaked past the 15 percent threshold of delegate support required to also win a place on the ballot for the Sept. 19 primary. Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly received 27 percent.
The results set the stage for what is expected to be a very competitive, expensive, and difficult-to-predict contest for the Democratic nomination. And the nod from the party provides an important stature boost for Patrick, especially nationally, as he seeks to attract money and interest in the race.
Patrick received the backing of 58 percent of the 4,569 delegates. He denounced what he called ``politics as usual" and said that he would offer a candidacy of hope.
``I came from nearly nothing to a decisive victory in the convention, so I'm thrilled," he said after accepting the endorsement. ``There's something fundamentally threatening about being an outsider candidate . . . but that's not going to deter me, because that's what I believe we need right now in Massachusetts."
The victory makes Patrick the first African-American in the state's history to be endorsed for governor by a major political party. His 10-minute speech to the delegates, touching on his path as a frightened 14-year-old boy from Chicago's South Side to elite education and success in Massachusetts, made some in the crowd weep.
``It was by far the most inspirational event I was ever at," said Brian Foley, 32, a lawyer and financial planner who chairs the Democratic City Committee in Brockton. ``He's amazing."
Patrick's nomination, while expected, capped a one-year campaign during which he has emerged as a serious force on the state's political landscape. The onetime civil rights enforcer has built a political field organization from nothing, and raised significant donations from within the state and around the country.
In the lieutenant governor's race, Timothy Murray, the Worcester mayor, won the convention's endorsement, while Andrea Silbert, a former nonprofit leader from the Cape, and Deborah Goldberg, a former Brookline selectwoman, also won spots on the ballot.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, seeking his fourth term, handily won the convention endorsement, getting 71 percent, while his challenger, John Bonifaz, a voting rights lawyer, received 29 percent.
The only suspense of the day was whether Gabrieli, the party's lieutenant governor candidate in 2002 and a wealthy venture capitalist, would clear the 15 percent mark necessary to advance to the primary. Gabrieli has poured $2.6 million of his own money into his campaign over the past two months, most of it going to a huge television media blitz.
``This has been a battle royale," Gabrieli told reporters. The final tally showed that Gabrieli made it onto the ballot with just 17 votes to spare.
The vote came after a day of maneuverings both on the convention floor and in the backrooms. Gabrieli got some last-minute help from political leaders who controlled blocs of votes, but his aides insisted no deals were cut, particularly with the Reilly campaign.
Gabrieli appeared to attract delegates who arrived at the DCU Center still undecided. Dorsey P. Dugan, a 31-year-old financial analyst from Quincy, said that he made up his mind during the drive to Worcester yesterday morning. He said that he is impressed by Gabrieli's work on education and economic development. But he also said that Gabrieli was the only candidate who contacted him.
``I would have supported Deval Patrick, but I never heard from him," Dugan said.
Gabrieli also received help from the mayor of Quincy. But others who controlled delegates held back, despite his pleas for help. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has mobilized his political operation behind Reilly, did not appear to budge, sticking with the attorney general.
Patrick drew his support broadly, from liberal activists throughout the state and some constituent groups, including gays and lesbians and some environmentalists. He also received assistance from members of the state's congressional delegation, including Representatives Barney Frank of Newton, James P. McGovern of Worcester, John Olver of Amherst, John F. Tierney of Salem, and Michael E. Capuano of Somerville.
Reilly, who early on decided to limit his convention effort to win a place on the primary ballot and not an endorsement, relied heavily on the party's veteran urban politicians, who represent more blue-collar constituencies. Menino and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, along with state senators and state representatives, provided Reilly with the backbone of his effort.
The eventual Democratic nominee will face Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, Green Rainbow candidate Grace Ross, and Independent Christy Mihos in the general election in November.
Gabrieli, Patrick, and Reilly each used their speeches to the delegates and videos to highlight the themes and strengths of their campaigns.
Gabrieli cited his experience in job creation, promised to end the exodus of residents from the state, and slammed Healey for only recently coming out in favor of stem cell research, which he has proposed the state invest in heavily.
``In four years, you haven't had the courage to stand up to your party on this," Gabrieli said. ``Why should we trust you now?"
Healey has argued Massachusetts must elect a Republican governor to keep a check on the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.
``It's not about balance; it's about results," Gabrieli said. ``I'll put my results against Kerry Healey anytime."
Patrick, who received the most enthusiastic response from the crowd, spoke next, celebrating what he calls his ``politics of hope" and the grass-roots campaign he's conducted statewide. ``It's time to put our cynicism down. Put it down," Patrick said. ``If you're ready to put it down, stand with me." Most of the hall then did, giving him a rousing send-off.
Reilly touted his experience as a public servant and dubbed himself ``the Republican Party's worst nightmare come November."
Reilly detailed his accomplishments as Middlesex district attorney and attorney general, and he made clear that he saw his constituency not in the Worcester convention but in those outside the Democratic establishment.
``There are hundreds of thousands of people not in this hall today who will also make a big difference in November. They are the independent-minded voters of Massachusetts," Reilly said. ``We have to show them that we care about their interests more than any special interests."
Party leaders, who faced a potential uproar if either Gabrieli or Reilly had failed to make the ballot, appeared pleased.
``It will be an extraordinarily competitive primary campaign," Philip W. Johnston, the party's chairman, said after it became clear Gabrieli was going to be part of the primary race. ``Each has a very strong political base with significant financial resources. They are evenly balanced."
Andrea Estes and Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff contributed to this report.