Former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has told Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democratic officials that he is considering making a last-minute entry into the presidential race, the latest evidence of how unsettled the party’s primary is less than three months before the Iowa caucuses.
Mr. Patrick told Mr. Biden in a phone conversation last week that he was weighing a bid, according to a Democrat directly familiar with the call, but did not indicate that he had fully decided to run. Mr. Patrick’s conversations with other party officials was confirmed by two other Democrats with knowledge of those talks.
Mr. Patrick has told party leaders that he doesn’t think any of the candidates running have established political momentum and that he thinks there is an opening for somebody who can unite both liberals and moderate Democrats, according to Democrats who have spoken to him.
At the same time, Massachusetts Democrats close to Mr. Patrick have started to reach out to prominent party leaders in early nominating states to alert them that he may run, according to one Democrat who has received an inquiry.
A pair of moderate candidates — Mr. Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. — and two progressives — Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — are now dividing the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to recent polls. But none of them has been able to pull away.
Mr. Patrick’s candidacy could reshape the already-fluid primary field. A two-term Massachusetts governor, he is well known in next-door New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary in February. And as one of the first black governors in the country’s history, he could also prove a formidable candidate in South Carolina, where black voters are expected to make up more than half the Democratic electorate.
If he is to compete in New Hampshire, Mr. Patrick would have to file there this week: The deadline to appear on the state’s ballot is Friday.
A Quinnipiac poll released on Monday showed four candidates bunched together at the top in New Hampshire, with Mr. Biden at 20 percent among likely primary voters, Ms. Warren at 16 percent, Mr. Buttigieg at 15 percent and Mr. Sanders at 14 percent. (The margin of error was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.) Ms. Harris, once in the top tier of the Democratic field, was at one percent, her worst result in a debate-qualifying poll all year.
A possible Patrick candidacy could complicate the strategic assumptions for a number of candidates, including the two leaders in most polls, Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren. Mr. Patrick could threaten the former vice president’s support from black voters and also make inroads in New Hampshire, where Ms. Warren is counting on a strong performance in the southern part of the state that borders Massachusetts.
He and Ms. Warren have had an amicable, if not personally close relationship; when she was asked at an event last week to name African-Americans she’d have in her cabinet, she included Mr. Patrick.
Were he to run, the former governor may find it difficult to create a full-fledged campaign organization so late in the process. Two of his longtime Massachusetts aides are already committed in 2020: Doug Rubin is working for businessman Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign and John Walsh is overseeing the re-election of Senator Ed Markey, who is being challenged by Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.
According to Massachusetts Democrats, though, Mr. Patrick has been personally reaching out to potential staffers.
He asked one former adviser, Jennifer Liu, on Monday if she was willing to oversee his fund-raising. Ms. Liu worked for his political arm when he was governor and was recently laid off from Senator Kamala Harris’ campaign, where she had been finance director.
Mr. Patrick traveled to some early nominating states last year but decided against a presidential bid last November, saying at the time that he did not want the “cruelty of our elections process” to adversely impact his family.
The governor did not immediately reply to a text message seeking comment on Monday. Last month, when he was asked to fully rule out the prospect of a last-minute entry, Mr. Patrick said: “Don’t ask me that question.”
Thomas Kaplan and Maggie Astor contributed reporting.