Last Monday Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and his chief of staff, Ed Augustus, visited five senior citizen high-rises back in their home district to press the flesh on the campaign trail. It was a pretty standard event, except for the fact that those in attendance were actually meeting two Massachusetts Democratic candidates instead of one. That’s because this election cycle, Augustus and McGovern are out campaigning for each other.
After six years of directing McGovern’s Congressional staff, Augustus, 39, has decided to take the plunge and run for office himself. He is the Democratic candidate for the 2nd Worcester district seat in the Massachusetts state Senate — and McGovern is one of his campaign co-chairmen for the race.
But oddly enough, before Augustus can get a seat in the state Senate he will have to face off against the wife of the man McGovern had to beat in order to win his own Congressional seat in 1996. As of two weeks ago, Roberta “Robi” Blute, wife of former 3rd district Rep. Peter Blute (R), earned herself a spot on the November ballot through a write-in campaign in the Republican primary. She decided to join the race in August after being asked to run by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Robi Blute is a health care consultant and former member of the Republican State Committee.
Independent candidate Jane Burdzel is also running for the state Senate seat.
Since formally entering the race in February for the seat being vacated by state Sen. Guy Glodis (D), Augustus has been pulling double duty, managing McGovern’s staff along with his own campaign efforts.
“It’s a lot of before work, after work, on the weekends,” Augustus said in his soft-spoken Massachusetts accent while sitting in his Capitol Hill office last Thursday. It was the first time he’d been working out of the Congressman’s D.C. office in two months.
Augustus said the unique opportunity that the open state Senate seat presented was an exciting next step in a career that has taken him from the Worcester School Committee to the U.S. Education Department and Capitol Hill.
“I think this has all been good preparation,” he said of his years spent managing McGovern’s office and learning the ins and out of the Congressional legislative process. He said leaving the Hill would be bittersweet, but he’s ready to have an office of his own. “I don’t
think there will be a lot of on-the-job training” should he win the state Senate seat, Augustus said. “I’ll come in ready to hit the ground running.”
With the election now just over a month away, Augustus will be taking a month-long leave of absence from his chief of staff duties beginning this week to concentrate full time on his own campaign. If he loses the bid he said he plans to continue working for McGovern as chief of staff; if he wins he said he’ll still come back for two months after the election to help with office transition.
Along with campaign appearances from McGovern and fellow Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal (D), Augustus has received endorsements from a wide range of groups including the Sierra Club, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women and the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus.
“There’s lots of challenges in that part of my district and they need a strong voice on Beacon Hill — he’ll be it,” McGovern said of Augustus, who is a champion of education. “I’ve seen first-hand the reaction he’s getting, and I think he’s doing very well for himself.”
Earlier this month the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that Augustus was the top fundraiser among Central Massachusetts candidates for legislative seats. Augustus said his war chest currently holds $130,000 and he’s planning on spending somewhere in the area of $200,000 to $225,000 on the race.
According to filings from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Blute had $29,500 in cash on hand as of Aug. 27, $14,000 of which was in the form of in-kind gifts.
State Rep. Paul Frost (R), who has been helping with Robi Blute’s campaign, said Blute entered the race last month because she “felt that getting into the race would at least be giving people a choice” in an election that originally had no Republican challenger. Blute received about 1,100 write-in votes in the Republican primary — more than the required 300 — to get on the November ballot.
After announcing her candidacy last month, Blute was quoted in the Telegraph & Gazette as saying, “this is a working-class district and people should have a choice. It’s not a coronation, it’s an election.”
Though Augustus wasn’t with McGovern when he faced Peter Blute in 1996, he did work on the 1992 campaign of former Rep. Joseph Early (D) when Early lost his re-election bid to the Massachusetts Republican. And Augustus said he’s ready to take on another Blute.
“I’ve been acting like it’s an election since February and she parachutes in in August at the request of the governor — that looks more like a coronation to me,” he said. “It’s not a coronation, but it’s also not a gubernatorial appointment.”
McGovern said he’s confident of his chief of staff’s chances come November. “I beat one Blute in 1996, I’m hoping to see him beat another in 2004,” he said.