As of now, a handful of Democrats have flirted with (or outright embraced) mounting a challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of her expected second run at the White House. Those candidates have, however, largely been relative unknowns or too exotic to be considered a genuine threat to her inevitability.
Self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is seriously contemplating a 2016 bid, but few believe that he can mount a legitimate challenge to Clinton. Former Democratic Virginia Sen. Jim Webb is also contemplating a run at the White House, but he retired from the Senate after only one term, is not especially well-known, and is considered relatively centrist enough so that he won’t present a stark enough contrast with Clinton to draw off her core supporters.
But there is another Democrat with significant name recognition, the loyalty of a key base of the Democratic Party, and the donor class appeal to be considered a significant threat to Clinton’s presidential aspirations. No, not Sen. Elizabeth Warren, though she continues to keep the political commentariat guessing about her intentions. No, it’s Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
“There are a lot of people who have asked me to think about it,” Patrick told a Boston news outlet on Thursday. “I’m under no illusions. It’s a huge decision, not just for me but for my family.”
When pressed on if he will decide to make a run at the White House, Deval replied that he might. “Maybe, but not right away,” the governor said. Patrick has been a definite “maybe” since February (though he backed off this prospect briefly in June), but with the intensity of the 2016 cycle beginning to heat up his latest flirtation with a presidential bid is going to raise eyebrows.
Patrick has intimated his intention to challenge Clinton in the past. In July, he said he was “worried about the campaign,” and said that Clinton’s sense of “entitlement” to her party’s nomination was “off-putting.”
“It’s not like we’re pals,” Patrick said of Clinton at the time. Their sour relationship has surely not improved much in the interim.
In a Democratic primary, Patrick brings something to the table that Clinton does not: the Obama coalition. There is a significant part of the Democratic base which resents how Clinton has distanced herself from her former boss, and Patrick has made no effort to qualify his support for the current commander-in-chief. Moreover, Patrick was an early backer of Obama over Clinton, and a contest between her and the Massachusetts governor is most likely to foster the same dynamics which characterized the 2008 Democratic primary race.
That said, lightning rarely strikes twice. Patrick is unlikely to capture the hearts of the progressive wing of the party as Obama did in 2008 or Warren could in 2016. Clinton is slightly more popular with prospective Democratic primary voters than she was in 2008, although she was thought of as the party’s inevitable nominee at this point in that cycle, too.
Patrick may be the most credible Democrat to openly contemplate a 2016 challenge to Clinton yet, but he is also likely to prove little competition for the former secretary of state.