When Governor Deval Patrick speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte on Tuesday night, his message will be focused on President Obama. But many in the party will be assessing him — and other speakers — as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
“It’s the one time every four years you really show yourself to a large swath of people who are going to determine future elections, so it’s important to do well,” said Neera Tanden, who was director of domestic policy for Obama’s 2008 campaign and serves with Patrick on the board of Protect Your Care, a PAC that defends the president’s health care law.
Patrick plans to reiterate many of the themes he has been honing as he has traveled the country over the last several months, campaigning for Obama and raising money for his own political action committee, the Together PAC.
He will argue that the American dream is at stake, that citizens have a “generational responsibility” to make the world better, and that the president’s achievements are impressive but not always widely known, said Alex Goldstein, executive director of the Together PAC.
Patrick will address the convention at 9 p.m., just prior to the keynote speaker, Julián Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, and the first lady, Michelle Obama. His speech will be broadcast on cable channels but not on the networks, which would have given him a broad national audience.
Unlike in 2008, when Patrick gave his convention speech in Denver as a newly minted governor, he arrives in Charlotte approaching the end of his governorship. Patrick has said he plans to return to the private sector when his second term ends in January 2015, but has not ruled out a future run for office or a Cabinet position in a second Obama term.
When asked directly whether he would consider a bid for the presidency, Patrick demurs, insisting he is focused only on his current job as governor.
Jim Doyle, a former Wisconsin governor who helped launch Protect Your Care with Patrick, said he has playfully encouraged his friend to run for the White House. “I’ve joked with him about it,” Doyle said, but Patrick “just smiles and moves on.”
In crisscrossing the country on behalf of Obama, Patrick has introduced himself to party leaders in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire that are pivotal to launching any presidential campaign. He has also made the rounds on the Sunday political talk shows.
On Monday, Patrick addressed convention delegates from Virginia. During his four days in Charlotte, he also plans to address delegates from Arizona and Massachusetts, to speak at a health care forum sponsored by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and to join a panel discussion about the future of the party that is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester.
Though not nationally known, Patrick has also fielded requests from three-dozen media outlets that want to interview him about his friend, Obama, and his predecessor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
Patrick, of course, is just one of many who are talked about as potential presidential candidates. Governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew M. Cuomo of New York are often mentioned high up on the list. “He is definitely in the conversation,” said Elaine Kamarck, who was an adviser to Al Gore’s presidential campaign and will attend the convention as a delegate from Massachusetts.
Among the Democratic faithful, Patrick has carved out a niche as a keeper of the liberal flame at a time when Obama has disappointed some on the left. Many of Patrick’s travels this year have focused on reenergizing the base of the Democratic Party. He frequently exhorts Democrats to “grow a backbone” and proudly defend immigration, gay rights, and the national health care law.
“He is trying to get his party to stand up for the principles it has represented for decades and, in some ways, he feels they’ve gotten away from,” said Nick Chiles, an author who helped Patrick write his recent e-book “Faith in the Dream: A Call to the Nation to Reclaim American Values.”
“I think of him as a very traditional progressive Democrat who cares deeply about the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the powerless who are, frankly, three groups that haven’t gotten a whole lot of attention,” Chiles said.