LUDLOW, Mass. - Eric Lesser
was shaking hands with diners in a Portuguese restaurant last week when he
spotted the owner of Manny's TV & Appliances
"Oh, I've got to get a picture," Mr. Lesser
eagerly said, draping his arm over Manny Rovithis, whose low-budget commercials have run for decades in Western Massachusetts.
giddiness about meeting the local celebrity had not faded when he
sat down for lunch.
Although Mr. Lesser
spent much of the last six years in the company of President Obama and Washington hotshots, now, as an earnest, hug-prone 29-year-old candidate for the Massachusetts State Senate
is far more interested in people like Mr. Rovithis.
Which is a good thing.
, a former White House staff member, has returned home on the path Mr. Obama hoped to inspire many of his
young supporters to follow when he
said, "We are the ones we have been waiting for."
But if Mr. Lesser
, who is on leave from Harvard Law School
to run for office, is the face of the promised Obama political generation, he
is also one of its few participants.
"If you want to be involved in politics, at a certain point you've got to walk the walk," said Mr. Lesser
, who oversaw all the staff and reporter luggage during the 2008 campaign. ("I never lost one bag," he
likes to tell voters.
"No one can say Eric Lesser
admits, however, that it is tempting to watch the new lives of many of his White House peers, among them Mr. Obama's former chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and all the others who have gone into consulting.
"My buddies are posting pictures on Facebook
of zooming around Davos," Mr. Lesser
said, though he
added that those who had gone that avenue had "missed the point a little bit.
I think that if I wanted to get rich, politics wouldn't have been the route I would have gone down."
spoke about how Mr. Obama's return to Chicago to run for the Illinois State Senate
after graduating from Harvard Law
resonated with him.
Washington friends supported his
decision to go back home, although some, he
said, told him it was "lame."
is not entirely alone, and White House officials hopefully point to the scattering of young Obama veterans running for or already holding office around the country.
By the time Mr. Lesser left the White House in July 2011, he had the grandiose title of director of strategic planning for the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
direct link to Washington's power brokers as a way to help his
district fix broken roads, fight drug use and improve the local economy.
On Tuesday evening, he
hopes to get some pointers from the president himself at the White House Passover Seder, which Mr. Lesser
first organized and always returns to Washington to help lead.
also gets strategic advice from Mr. Axelrod.
David Plouffe, the senior White House adviser who ran Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign, has counseled Mr. Lesser on field operations.
"I started off carrying his bags," it says above the smiling heads of the president and Mr. Lesser.
Splashed across their midsections it adds, "I ended up working for his Council of Economic Advisers
But on the ground, Mr. Lesser
seems very much like the handful of other Democrats running in a September primary, just younger.
On a recent morning, as he
spoke to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers about his
grandfather's work as a longshoreman and his
father's stint as a union organizer, Mr. Lesser
learned that one of the burly 12 men who had come to hear him speak also spelled Eric
with a "c."
"Awesome, me too," Mr. Lesser
Other times he
gamely embraced the oddities of campaigns.
In the town of Wilbraham, Mr. Lesser toured FloDesign Inc., a technology firm, and marveled at the work it was doing in biological research, using the ovary cells of a species called the Chinese hamster.
stopped to pose with the recipient of an office prize - a "stuffed ovary" that vaguely resembled a stuffed, oval-shaped animal - and which read "ova achievers."
then headed to a polling place for a local election, where he
encountered Debra Boronski, the Republican nominee whom Mr. Lesser hopes to face in November.
stood alone under a red umbrella.
"You've got a few years to get involved, but you can volunteer," Mr. Lesser
Ms. Nunes then turned to Mr. Lesser
and implored, "Got to get these young people involved!"