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Deval Patrick charts a moderate path through South Carolina

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There are two places that are likely to play a critical role in the outcome of former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's nascent presidential campaign: the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire and the second state to hold a Democratic primary in 2020, South Carolina. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden has held onto a commanding lead in South Carolina in polls so far, thanks in no small part to the state's black voters, who make up as much as 60% of the state's Democratic electorate. Since Patrick made his late entry into the race earlier this month, he's come through the state twice already. 

On Tuesday, Patrick stopped by Kiki's Chicken and Waffles in Columbia, in keeping with a somewhat local tradition for the Democratic field, and he met with one of the biggest names in the state's Democratic political ecosystem, Congressman Jim Clyburn, and other strategists, in order to survey the political landscape.

Clyburn—who describes his relationship with Patrick as "close and personal"—has known Patrick since his days as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.

CBS News political contributor and Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright attended the dinner with Clyburn and Patrick. He said the governor came to do more listening than talking and seemed to understand "the gravity of the moment."

"The voters are crystal clear that the number one priority is beating Trump," said Seawright. He added that the conversations Patrick has had in South Carolina this week "give him an opportunity to amplify and elevate his unique profile and message as he makes a case for his lane on the political highway." 

And this isn't Patrick's first foray onto the campaign trail in South Carolina — he stumped here with former Governor Jim Hodges for his longtime friend, then-Senator Barack Obama, before the state's primary election in 2008.

It "was one of the most exciting experiences I've had in politics," Patrick told CBS News and CNN soon after his meeting with Clyburn ended. 

Asked by CBS News whether he thinks he can cut into Biden's lead among African-American voters, Patrick said, "I take nothing and no one for granted, and that's not just true of this campaign, it's [been] true my whole life."

"I understand that every election is about earning and I also understand by the way that not every black voter thinks and votes and organizes, in the same way," he said, adding, "so, I respect what other folks have, what the polls say, but frankly, if I'd been listening to pollsters and pundits, I never would have been governor of Massachusetts."

Patrick also sought to allay any concern that at this late date, he might be short of the time and money needed to wage a successful presidential bid.  

"We'll have enough money to be competitive but I want to believe — and do believe not just from, you know, fanciful thinking but from experience — that it's not all about money," he said. "It's about engagement, it's about respect and it's about the willingness to listen to other people."

Patrick is hoping to make inroads with moderate voters who are uneasy with the prospect of a progressive candidate like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket. He's expected to make a play for these voters both here and in New Hampshire. Earlier this week, Patrick remarked on "woke" and "still waking" voters — a reference he said he picked up from a young man's speech at an Obama Foundation summit a few years ago. Tuesday night in the foyer of Kiki's, the former Massachusetts expounded on this theme.

"There are a lot of us who are thinking about big ideas and have been, in some cases for a long time, but as we move toward those big ideas, you know, if we're going to unify the country, we have to pay attention to people who aren't there yet," said Patrick. "I think part of being respectful and being a successful leader is about solutions and change that lasts — [which] means you have to bring other people along and frankly, let them teach you whether there are better means to get to those things."

His words echoed Mr. Obama's own recent call at this year's Obama Foundation Summit for a certain tolerance, a little patience, and even moderation. "This idea of purity and you're never compromised and you're always politically 'woke' and all that stuff," Mr. Obama said. "You should get over that quickly."

"The world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws," the former president pointed out. "People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you."

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