The reports suggest that Patrick, who is the state’s first African-American governor, could be considered for everything from “lead surrogate” to campaign co-chairman. This has largely silenced earlier speculation that Patrick would take over as the head of the Democratic National Committee should its current chairman, Tim Kaine, step down to run for U.S. Senate in Virginia.
During the 2010 cycle, then–White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod frequently cited Patrick’s re-election campaign as a key bellwether of just how strong the GOP wave in 2010 would be. Both Axelrod and Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, were consultants on Patrick’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign.
In 2010, Patrick defeated Republican Charlie Baker 48 percent to 42 percent. (“Un-enrolled” conservative Democrat Tim Cahill took 9 percent of the vote—splitting the anti-incumbent vote with Baker.) This was something of a comedown for Patrick from 2006, when he defeated former Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey 55 percent to 35 percent.
In a piece in The New Republic last December, Noam Scheiber reported on the Obama staff’s admiration for the Patrick campaign, which helped the governor rally back from disappointing poll numbers without resorting to a contrived image-reinvention campaign.
Kenneth Cosgrove, an assistant professor of government at Boston’s Suffolk University, says that featuring Patrick prominently could bring a number of benefits to Obama’s re-election effort. First, the addition of another African-American to the Obama campaign’s senior staff could help rally black voters and push their turnout numbers close to where they were in 2008. Second, Patrick has strong ties to key figures in Obama’s world—his years of experience working with Plouffe and Axelrod mean that he will require minimal training before he can hit the road running. Third, Patrick is an excellent manager.
“The thing that Patrick can do is present Obama as reasonable and patient,” says Cosgrove. “[Patrick] did not position himself in 2010 as a liberal or a progressive; he positioned himself as an effective manager.” Cosgrove believes that Obama has been trying to recast himself in this fashion after spending the first two years of his term as a movement leader.
Are there any downsides to adding Patrick to the Obama team? “The only thing that the Republicans can make hay out of here is that Patrick presided over a liberal state, which is true,” says Cosgrove, who notes, however, that anything Patrick can do to help change the topic from healthcare reform, economic stimulus and persistently high unemployment makes him a good addition to the campaign team. “If  becomes about healthcare and jobs, Democrats will not win those arguments,” says Cosgrove.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org