Politico

Eric Swalwell leans on Iowa as he eyes 2020 bid

OAKLAND, Calif. — Eric Swalwell doesn’t have the star power of Kamala Harris, the progressive following of Elizabeth Warren, or the silverback status of Joe Biden.

But the three-term California congressman — who’s edging closer to a longer-than-longshot presidential bid — does have one advantage in the crowded Democratic presidential field if he chooses to run: Iowa, the state where he was born.

Swalwell is a native of Sac City, the son of the former police chief of Algona and he’s already been to the early presidential state 15 times over the past two years.

He’ll need a lot more than that to break through. At 38, he’s one of the younger members of the House — running in a field that features a handful of better-known senators and party luminaries.

And while other 2020 contenders are renting office space and scooping up Democratic operatives in early states, there isn’t much evidence that Swalwell has laid much campaign infrastructure — though New Hampshire Democrats say Swalwell has been in the hunt for a state director in their state.

Swalwell does, however, have a growing national profile thanks to his frequent cable television appearances. He serves on the Judiciary Committee, which is charged with oversight of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy — and where the impeachment process would start if Democrats go down that road. And he has a high-visibility slot on the Intelligence Committee at a time when the Russia investigation continues to rate high on the minds of Democratic primary voters.

“I think I will be in the top tier of a field of candidates with national security experience,’’ says Swalwell, who serves as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence subcommittee on the CIA. With his previous appointment to the Homeland Security Committee, Swalwell has completed congressional trips to hot spots like Pakistan and Afghanistan, while burnishing credentials on cybersecurity issues.

Swalwell, who notes that he has two children under two years of age and just under $100,000 in debt, notes there’s a 2020 lane for a generational voice for millenials.

“I’m one of the few who are connected to everyday people,’’ said Swalwell in an interview. “We are seeing a high interest in all of these places where we show up….the “first in the nation” voters are embracing new energy, new ideas.. and new leadership,’’ on issues from health care to student loan debt and job opportunities.

Lucas Meyer, who heads the New Hampshire Young Democrats, heard the congressman’s message in a December visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state and said his voice is welcome.

“To have someone like Swalwell, who’s 38 — that experience and that perspective is valuable regardless if he’s running for president or not,” said Meyer.

Swalwell hasn’t made any formal announcement yet about his plans. But he is moving in that direction, telling POLITICO, “I’m ready to do this.’’

“I have to make a decision before April,” he said.

If he gets into the race, he’d join 11 other Democrats who are already running, and he’d be the second Californian officially in the mix after Sen. Kamala Harris — like Swalwell, a former Bay Area prosecutor.

Garry South, the veteran California Democratic consultant who advised Senator Joe Lieberman’s campaign for president, says that Swalwell faces some obvious hurdles.

“As a member of Congress, he has an immediate existential problem,’’ said South. “California has an early primary next year. And unless he gives up his seat, he’s going to have to file for Congress to run for reelection…because you can’t run for both president and Congress in California.”

Political scientist Bruce Cain, who heads the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, says that despite being the longest of longshots, Swalwell’s savvy use of social media, along with his almost daily presence on cable television, could capture some attention.

“In past years, we would have said it’s ridiculous” for a third term congressman to run for president, Cain said. But Swalwell’s fresh face may be positioned to suggest “a new economy dynamism’’ that connects with younger voters, while his economic agenda draws older Democrats.

“I’ve looked up at a tall mountain before,’’ Swalwell says of a White House run. He notes that, as a child, he suffered from Bell’s Palsy, and “I struggled with an eye patch and wasn’t sure the paralysis would ever go away…I worked odd jobs…my whole life has just been climbing a tall mountain.”

Indeed, Swalwell shocked the political establishment with an upset victory that sent him to Congress in 2012. The former Alameda County prosecutor and Dublin city councilman was a virtual unknown when unseated a longtime liberal lion, 20-term Democratic Rep. Pete Stark — a powerful member of the House Ways & Means Committee who had represented California’s 15th Congressional District for seven years before Swalwell even was born.

To some Democrats, however, the long odds confronting Swalwell in 2020 suggest he’s making a play for something other than the presidential nomination — such as a vice presidential nod, a Cabinet post or building name recognition in pursuit of a future Senate run.

“When you’ve got 20 of them running, how many of them are running for a cabinet position, or vice president?” said Pete D’Alessandro, former Iowa state director to Bernie Sanders.

D’Allesandro said sometimes potential candidates get an overblown sense of their worth when they visit the state, because potential caucus goers are so welcoming.

“People here want to accept this role and make sure they’ll do it right,” he said. “The reception is always pretty good for folks. I think that’s where people fall into the trap sometimes. They’ll say ‘Jesus, I’m doing great in Iowa! People seem to like me.’ It’s like, nah, they do that for everybody.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Continue

About the author

Lisa

Leave a Comment