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Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick Speaks To Voters In South Carolina

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Deval Patrick insists he still has time to run a successful campaign for president. The former Massachusetts governor made a late entry into the race last week. He's been campaigning in the early caucus and primary states. From member station WBUR, reporter Anthony Brooks reports that South Carolina could hold one of the keys to Patrick's long-shot bid for the White House.

ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: Deval Patrick is taking the first steps of a nascent presidential campaign, starting with the question, who are you?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEVAL PATRICK: My name is Deval Patrick. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago.

BROOKS: Patrick has come to a small office at a strip mall on the edge of Columbia to talk to a dozen African American women entrepreneurs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATRICK: I'm a Democrat. I don't think you have to hate Republicans to be a good Democrat. But we do have a unique kind of leadership that seems to wake up every day trying to figure out how to divide us further. At the same time, the president says out loud what the Republican leadership have been saying in code for a long time. And so in some ways, it's an invitation to confront some old, unfinished business.

BROOKS: Patrick is not easy to pigeonhole. He was a civil rights lawyer and then a liberal Massachusetts governor, who raised taxes and the minimum wage. But he's also a corporate lawyer who embraces the benefits of the market. He was the state's first African American governor, only the second in the whole country, who campaigned on hope, a theme adopted by his old friend Barack Obama. Now, with none of the Democrats running away with the race, he sees an opening.

PATRICK: It's interesting to me that after months and years, in many cases, of other campaigns working it, they haven't gotten it done. And there was an opening, and I would say what's been confirmed in visits to the early states is that is so.

BROOKS: Patrick's audiences are small but receptive in this key state, which holds the first southern primary and where two-thirds of Democratic voters are black. Eyamba Sowers, a businesswoman, has been leaning toward Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, but she says she likes what she heard from Patrick.

EYAMBA SOWERS: I definitely did. He related a lot to what is going on with the community. He makes it seem like he understands where we are coming from.

BROOKS: So you might take a closer look at him.

SOWERS: I definitely will take a closer look.

BROOKS: That's the kind of voter Patrick hopes to win over. But some longtime political observers here say it's more than a longshot for Patrick to win in South Carolina.

JIM FELDER: Coming in this late, really, I don't see him having a chance.

BROOKS: Jim Felder is a longtime civil rights activist and a former state rep. He says Patrick will be hard-pressed to get enough boots on the ground to organize a winning campaign here. Felder is a Biden supporter and points out that the former vice president is well ahead in the polls in this state.

FELDER: This is really Biden's country. We know him - eight years with Obama, and we go way back with Joe Biden.

PATRICK: First of all, I respect polls. But I don't believe them. They're a moment in time.

BROOKS: This is Deval Patrick again.

PATRICK: The electorate is still very much in flux. If I thought it was too late, I wouldn't have done it.

BROOKS: Most politicians behind in the polls will often dismiss them. But in this case, he might be right, according to Johnnie Cordero, the chairman of the state's black caucus, which Patrick addressed this week. Cordero says it's wrong to conclude that Joe Biden has deep support in South Carolina.

JOHNNIE CORDERO: Joe Biden has a commanding lead, but he has a lead among older African Americans. But you cannot win South Carolina on that vote alone.

BROOKS: Cordero says Biden's support falls off among the growing number of millennials and other younger voters. His conclusion about the race...

CORDERO: It's wide-open.

BROOKS: Patrick would like to believe that, despite the wide lead Biden has maintained all year. He's currently running his campaign with a tiny staff, but he says it will be expanding in the coming days.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks in Columbia, S.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBULANCE LTD'S "MICHIGAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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