NEW ORLEANS — Former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts told senior Democrats Wednesday that he will enter the presidential race, according to two party officials, reversing his decision last year to forgo a run and adding yet more volatility to an unusually fluid Democratic primary.Mr. Patrick was calling a list of Democrats to inform them of his decision and is expected to begin his campaign with a video before appearing in person in New Hampshire to file his paperwork to be on the primary ballot there. He did not immediately reply to a text message.
Joining the campaign less than three months before the first votes are cast in Iowa, at a moment when candidates are usually dropping out and not jumping in, Mr. Patrick will face long odds. Yet his decision to run reflects the fractured nature of the Democratic race at a moment when Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has also taken steps to enter the primary.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has proved more durable than dominant, at or near the top of most early nominating states, according to polls, but unable to seize control of the race against such unexpected moderate alternatives as Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind. And the two leading progressives, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have shown fund-raising strength but have not yet broadened their appeal enough in the party to emerge as consensus candidates.
In his conversations with Democrats this week, he acknowledged the scale of the challenge he faces by getting in this late. But he has received encouragement from some in the party who believe the race remains unsettled — and that he could prove a formidable candidate. Mr. Patrick hopes to bridge the divisions that have shaped the contest so far, appealing to centrists and liberals, white and nonwhite voters and across generational and economic lines in a way none of the candidates have been able to do. A close friend of former President Barack Obama, he has told advisers that he envisions a campaign similar to that Mr. Obama’s 2008 race, focusing more on bringing people together and healing the country than making a particular ideological case.
Mr. Patrick traveled to some early nominating states in 2018 before deciding against a campaign this time last year. While his explanation then owed in part to the “cruelty of our elections process,” as he put it, he also initially decided against a run because his wife, Diane, had recently been given a cancer diagnosis. She is now healthy.
Mr. Patrick is likely to train his initial focus on New Hampshire, where he is known by some voters for serving two terms as governor across the state line. And as the second elected black governor in the country’s history, he is hoping for a strong showing in South Carolina, where African-American voters could decide the primary.His task won’t be easy. Mr. Patrick enters the race with little organization, no campaign cash and an imperative to gather both as he also tries to appeal to voters in a contest where Super Tuesday takes place in early March, immediately after the first four nominating states. It’s also unclear when, or if, he’ll qualify for a debate.
He has missed the filing deadlines in two states, Alabama and Arkansas, so he begins at a disadvantage should the primary evolve into a marathon where every delegate is crucial. And he’s already started to draw fire from liberal critics for his current post at Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Democrats assailed Senator Mitt Romney of Utah during his 2012 presidential campaign for having co-founded and run.
There is also the more fundamental question of whether there’s even an opening for a new candidate. Polls of Democratic voters indicate that they’re mostly satisfied with what’s still an unusually large field of contenders.
Yet while even Mr. Patrick’s most ardent admirers allow that he is a long-shot candidate, they believe that the splintered nature of this race calls out for an upbeat and consensus-oriented candidate.
“If anybody is capable of catching lighting in a bottle, it’s him,” said Tim Murray, a former mayor of Worcester, Mass., who served as Mr. Patrick’s lieutenant governor.
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