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Deval Patrick Listens, As Well As Talks, On Campaign Trail in Portsmouth

Like many presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is spending lots time in New Hampshire in the final days of the state's presidential primary. But as he campaigned in Portsmouth on Sunday morning, he ended up doing more listening than talking.

Patrick began the day with a tour of the city's Black Heritage Trail. Flanked by campaign staff, reporters, and a handful of voters, Patrick rarely spoke, except to ask questions of the tour guides.

It felt less like a campaign event and more like what it was actually was: a tour of Portsmouth’s black history that included a visit to the African Burying Ground memorial.

As the group began discussing how hard it can be to start conversations about race, Patrick agreed, saying, “We don’t know each other.”

“It's not a limitation just of race," he said. "We don't know each other from different parts of the country. We don't know each other's perspectives. There's all this emphasis on squeezing people into the smallest possible box.”

If there was any campaign message that Patrick was wielding on Sunday morning it was this one: that America needs a rebuilding of its sense of community and that he’s the person to do it.

The former two-term Massachusetts governor entered the presidential race in November. Patrick said the late entry was the result of his wife’s cancer diagnosis, which she has since recovered from.

Still, he faced questions from reporters on Sunday about the viability of his run. Asked to address speculation this his campaign was merely an audition for a future White House bid, Patrick said with a laugh, “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Patrick brought his message of community-building with him to his next event, at the New Hope Baptist Church in Portsmouth.

“Government is just the name we give to the things we choose to do together,” he told the mostly African-American congregation. “That's all. And right now we need to choose to do some things together, if we are going to rebuild our sense of national community.”

Like with the Black Heritage Trail tour, Patrick tread lightly with his campaigning at New Hope Baptist Church. He spoke for less than 10 minutes before returning to his pew and joining in the service.

His campaign has a more conventional schedule during the week ahead, with plenty of chances for policy speeches and voters’ questions. But at least on Sunday, the looming primary seemed somehow remote and for the candidate that seemed just fine.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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