Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced a late bid to run for president Thursday morning, but strategists say his experience at private equity firm Bain Capital will be a high hurdle for the Democrat to jump over.
With the party swinging sharply to the left since the 2008 financial crisis, mainstream politicians have had a hard time justifying any kind of ties to Wall Street firms, which were seen as responsible for the crash that cost many Americans their jobs and their homes.
Close ties to Bain could be especially tricky to explain. Since Bain Capital co-founder Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the firm, dubbing it "vulture capitalism."
Critics say Bain loaded companies with debt, forced them to file for bankruptcy and is responsible for thousands of lost jobs due to "closed plants, stores and offices."
Top Democratic candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has taken aim at the private equity industry, saying it's contributed to the downfall of several retail giants, such as Payless and Toys R Us.
Toys R Us is a prime example of private equity's downside. Bain was one of three firms that saddled the toy retailer with billions in debt, which ultimately led to bankruptcy and tens of thousands of employee layoffs.
Warren says workers should be more involved in corporate governance and corporate directors should "consider the interests of all major corporate stakeholders — not only shareholders — in company decisions." Warren's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After his two terms as governor, Patrick joined Bain Capital in 2015 as a managing director of its Double Impact fund. The fund "invests in companies in order to drive social and environmental impact," he told CNN in 2018, trying to set his work at the firm apart from the stereotypical image of private equity as corporate raider.
Patrick's campaign responded with the following statement:
"Deval Patrick brings a wide range of experience to this race — and he is proud of his work in the public, non-profit and private sectors. The Bain Capital Double Impact fund has invested in mission-driven companies that target both social and environmental good. Governor Patrick's life has always been about rejecting false choices, and this new fund was created to show that private companies can be a force for public good. This is part of what makes him who he is and why he is the right candidate for president."
Still, though his time at Bain didn't overlap with Romney's, Patrick might be seen as a candidate with ties to the Utah senator, said Mary Anne Marsh, a principal at political consulting firm Dewey Square Group.
"They're both from Massachusetts ... they're both former governors that worked at Bain," Marsh told CNBC. "I think it's going to require Patrick to explain what he did at Bain that was different from what Mitt Romney did. So that puts him at a disadvantage."
It's "a time-honored tradition" for Democratic candidates to bring up Bain Capital in cases against opponents, she added. "When Ted Kennedy ran against Mitt Romney [in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate election], he used his time at Bain Capital against him, and it was a success," she said, noting that former President Barack Obama based part of his 2012 reelection campaign on the same argument.
Patrick will try to distinguish himself from Romney, Marsh said, by pointing out that he focused on supporting firms that have a positive impact on communities.
She said it will be a tough sell.
"While Patrick will say that he worked in a different kind of element by doing socially responsible investing, that's a tough argument to make," Marsh said. "A lot of what voters know about Bain Capital in a political context is not positive and has never helped anyone win a campaign. He has the longest of long shots."
But the newly minted candidate told a Washington Post reporter on Thursday, "When I was co-chair of the Obama-Biden campaign in 2012, and there were all the attacks on the Bain Capital on account of Mitt Romney, you know, I was asked about that," he said. "I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now."
Patrick resigned from the firm a day before he made his announcement Thursday, the Boston Globe reported. A person familiar with the situation told CNBC that managing partner Todd Cook will lead the Double Impact fund. Cook did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC.