By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
WORCESTER -- As Democrats gathered in central Massachusetts to contemplate the future of their party, Gov. Deval Patrick delivered one final convention stemwinder to the stalwarts on Friday night, asserting that a return to Republican leadership would be a return to the "tired policies" of stagnant job growth and Big Dig boondoggles.
Patrick returned to the same convention hall where he accepted the party's nomination for governor in 2006, thanking delegates for giving a "nervous first-time candidate" with a "funny name" a chance. Now with his time in office nearly up, Patrick urged delegates and leaders not to lose sight of focus on infrastructure and education and innovation that he made hallmarks of his administration.
"Massachusetts is back in the leadership business, and while there is much, much more to do, whether in child welfare or mental health or corrections or economic justice itself, we are leading today not because we catered to the powerful, not because we kept the finger in the political wind and not because we avoided the tough issues but because we stood up for what we believed and governed for the next generation," Patrick said.
Hundreds of the more than 6,000 delegates expected to the attend the convention at Worcester's DCU Center this weekend showed up for the festivities Friday night where Democrats rallied behind the candidates for auditor, secretary of state and U.S. Senate who face no primary opposition.
Auditor Suzanne Bump, Secretary of State William Galvin and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey all accepted the party endorsements for re-election.
Candidates in contested races spent the evening working the floor, pressing the flesh with supporters and uncommitted delegates who could make or break the political futures of several candidates for governor.
The five-person contest for governor will take center stage on Saturday when competitors will need to secure 15 percent of the vote to proceed to the primary. Treasurer Steve Grossman is looking to win the convention vote and get a bump in the race, which he trails in the polls to Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Coakley, meanwhile, will be looking to show organizing strength and finish at least second.
Patrick was introduced by his former lieutenant governor Tim Murray, who now runs the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and stoked the speculation that Patrick could run for president.
"I know we are not ready to close the books on Deval Patrick," Murray said. "His time as governor may be winding down, but he isn't finished listening, learning or leading. And perhaps some day in the not too distant future Deval Patrick will be listening and learning in the fields of Iowa and the hills of New Hampshire, asking all Americans to pursue the best in themselves and in each other."
Patrick called his former political partner "mischievous."
Though the governor has not aligned himself with any of the Democrats running in the primary for governor, he did say, "We don't need to tear down the challengers or each other to win elections. We need to stress our values and their roots in the highest American ideals and we need to tell our story at the grassroots."
Patrick in 2010 won re-election against the same Republican - Charlie Baker - who is expected to win the GOP primary this year. Patrick, who governed through the Great Recession, broadly warned against Republicans who "want to take us back" with "tired policies" that he said led to stagnant economic growth and declining populations.
"The very party and the very people who brought us the Big Dig now tell us they want to bring better management to state government that under Democrats has balanced budgets, shored up the rainy day fund so it's one of the strongest in America and achieved the highest bond rating in our history," Patrick said. "We're not fooled. We're not fooled. Now let's do the work in this election cycle to make sure nobody else is fooled either."
U.S Sen. Elizabeth Warren roused the crowd at the start of the convention, encouraging Democrats to "fight for what we believe in," including higher wages, marriage equality, tougher Wall Street regulation and relief for students to go to college "without being crushed with debt."
"The Republican fight to protect the rich and powerful, we can whine about it, we can whimper, or we can fight back. Me? I plan to fight back," Warren said.
Warren called for Democrats to re-elect all nine Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. John Tierney who has three primary challengers. Warren plans to join Tierney at an event in Salem on Monday afternoon.
Warren also took a jab at former Sen. Scott Brown, who she beat in 2012. "Apparently we beat Scott Brown so badly that he tucked tail and ran away to New Hampshire. I wonder what's happened to him since then?" Warren said.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, who is facing a challenge from a little-known Republican Brian Herr, a selectman from Hopkinton, told delegates "we are in an epic battle for our democracy."
"The Tea Party knows I am a big obstacle to Republicans taking back the United States Senate," Markey said, rallying Democrats on issues such as climate change, gun control and raising the minimum wage.
Congressman Jim McGovern, of Worcester, gave the first speech of the night, suggested he would go even further than the state Legislature's proposed minimum wage increase to $11 an hour, saying the minimum wage in America should be $15 an hour. He also said it was time to declare hunger "illegal."
The convention resumes Saturday at 8:45 a.m. with candidate speeches beginning at 11 a.m. and voting to follow.