COLUMBIA, S.C.—Pretty much everyone hates what the Democratic primary race has become. It’s gone on too long, cost too much money, and tended to reward people who’ve been repeating the same lines for years. Pretty much everyone also hates the debates. (How many people watched last week’s debate and saw a future president? How many people saw someone who they’re confident can beat Donald Trump?) And pretty much everyone hates what the process has churned out: A Des Moines Register poll three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, and 14 months after the campaign started, showed that 60 percent of people still hadn’t made up their minds. The New York Times endorsed two candidates. “People like the field, but I don’t think they feel that great about the front-runners,” John Delaney, who is still winding down the final days of his own candidacy, told me a few weeks ago. New York magazine’s latest cover headline nailed the Democratic panic: “Well, Here We Are.”
And here I am, in the lobby restaurant of a Marriott, with a candidate who’s telling me it’s not too late to do something about all this. Deval Patrick says voters have been telling him directly that they like him, that they’re ready to go with him, or at least consider him. “I meet donors who say, ‘I am so there; I just want to see this in the polls, and then I want to bundle for you.’ What are you waiting for? If you already think I contribute something that the rest of the field doesn’t, why are you waiting for permission from pundits, pollsters, the party, somebody else?” Patrick said. I’ve heard the same thing from people who’ve been thinking about writing checks. More often, I’ve heard people tell me that they can’t bring themselves to be a part of this.