Eric P. Lesser, a four-term state senator and Obama White House alum, is seriously weighing a run for lieutenant governor next year, according to people who’ve spoken with the Longmeadow Democrat.
The potential entrance of Lesser, 36, would expand an already crowded Democratic field in the race to be the No. 2 official in state government and running mate for the party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2022. Lesser has been discussing a would-be campaign with allies and party insiders in recent days, and is “gauging reactions to the idea,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser and strategist for Barack Obama.
“He’s had eight good years in the state Senate, and I think he’s eager to look for, or at least consider, leveraging more influence on the issues he cares about,” said Axelrod, for whom Lesser served as special assistant at the White House. “That platform is attractive, and Eric is a guy who’s always made the most of everything he’s ever done. A job like that with someone like him could be really impactful.”
Lesser declined to comment Wednesday.
The lieutenant governor’s field already includes three declared candidates: state Representative Tami Gouveia, a two-term Democrat from Acton; state Senator Adam G. Hinds, a three-term Democrat from Pittsfield; and Bret Bero, a Democrat who is a Boston businessman and Babson College lecturer.
Dan Koh, chief of staff at the Labor Department under Secretary Martin J. Walsh, is also seriously considering running for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary, a person with knowledge of his plans told the Globe last week.
The seat is open in 2022 after Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito announced that neither would seek reelection next year.
The lieutenant governor’s race could also be shaped by a still unsettled gubernatorial primary. State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, former state senator Ben Downing, and Harvard professor Danielle Allen have all announced campaigns, though after Baker’s announcement last week, Democrats are awaiting other potential entrants.
Attorney General Maura Healey has been considering a gubernatorial campaign for months, and could make a decision shortly. Walsh was also taking a look at the race in the wake of Baker’s decision, two people familiar with his thinking told the Globe last week.
First elected in 2014, Lesser has cut a growing profile in the Senate, where he has chaired the Legislature’s committee on economic development and helped shepherd a sweeping economic stimulus and housing package into law early this year and a $1 billion package in 2018.
He’s also pushed a bill that would pay people $10,000 to relocate to Western Massachusetts and work from home, and has been at the center of talks over several years in the Legislature of whether to legalize sports betting. Lesser has, at times, also been a vocal critic of Baker, challenging the Republican administration’s estimates on “east-west” rail service between Boston and Springfield or on failures within the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
“He has a track record on economic development, which to me is a central issue,” said Steve Grossman, the former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate with whom Lesser has discussed a potential campaign. Grossman, a former chairman for the Democratic National Committee, said he would back Lesser should he enter the race.
“A race like lieutenant governor, which is down ballot, may not get a lot of attention from the public. But it will get attention from activists,” Grossman said. “Getting in at this point will give him a good solid runway to build a grass-roots team, to build an organization, and to build a strong message of economic revitalization.”
The role of lieutenant governor has few formal responsibilities and often serves to bolster the agenda of the governor. Politically, a nominee, while elected separately in a primary, is viewed as a person who could bring balance to a gubernatorial ticket, particularly geographically, or to help punch up its fund-raising.
Lesser, a Harvard alum, entered December with $630,756 on hand in his political account. He also had been viewed within some Democratic circles as a potential candidate in the race for attorney general, where some Democrats have been preparing campaigns should Healey forgo seeking reelection.