Election Day may have just come this week, but East Bay Rep. Eric Swalwell is already thinking about 2020.
Swalwell is seriously considering running for president, and says he expects to make a decision about whether to jump in the race “right around the turn of the year.”
“While we may have a lot of seasoned veterans running, I think this is going to be an election about the future,” Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in an interview. “We can’t count on the same old leaders to solve the same old problems — it’s going to take new energy and new ideas and a new confidence to do that.”
The 2020 race could feature a boatload of Californians, including Sen. Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer and bombastic lawyer Michael Avenatti, all of whom have also campaigned in Iowa.
Among that group, Swalwell, 37, is the youngest — and would be the youngest president ever elected. Undaunted by the odds, he is headed to Iowa this weekend for his 13th trip to the politically pivotal state since President Trump took office. He’s campaigned with Democrats up and down the ballot over the last two years, including congressional candidates Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne, whose victories on Tuesday helped the party win back the House of Representatives.
Only one president, James Garfield, has ever leapt directly from the House of Representatives to the White House. But Swalwell argued that he’s experienced enough to be taken seriously, pointing to the fact that he will have served in Congress for eight years as of January 2021 and has worked on high-profile national security issues as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
“I wouldn’t do it unless I thought I could win,” Swalwell said. “If you’re doing it as a vanity project, or to seek some other seat, there’s better ways to do that than taking your family and yourself through the vice that is a presidential run.”
Before being elected to Congress, Swalwell worked as a prosecutor in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office and served as a member of the city council in his hometown, Dublin.
One big downside to a run, Swalwell said, would be missing out on time with his two young children. His son Nelson is a year and half old, while his daughter Kathryn (nicknamed “Cricket”) was born last month. His wife Brittany works full time as a sales director for Ritz-Carlton hotels, and her maternity leave ends near the start of the year.
Swalwell said he saw the impact a presidential run can have on a family when he campaigned with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has four children, during his 2016 bid.
“It would be hard to be away during the early, developing years of their lives,” Swalwell said of his kids. “But you also weigh that their lives and their future could be brighter if your vision is a winning vision.”
Swalwell, who was born in Iowa and spent the first few years of his life there, is already making an impression in the Hawkeye State. Vikki Brown, the chair of the Black Hawk County Democratic Party in the state’s northeast, said she’d met him in person multiple times, including getting coffee with him one-on-one.
“I think he would make a fantastic candidate,” Brown said. “He’s so personable — talking to him is just like talking to a neighbor.”
The congressman’s campaign and leadership PAC have also donated or raised more than $115,000 for Iowa Democrats, and he sent a full-time staffer to work on midterm campaigns in the state.
He’s taken a granular interest in Iowa politics, going as far as to send $100 to the campaign of Kyle McGlade, who won a seat on the Council Bluffs School Board last year at the age of 23. McGlade said he met with Swalwell twice during his run, when no other politicians outside the state had given him any attention.
“It shows that he really cares about building up the base,” McGlade said.
But another Democratic Party official in Iowa, who asked not to be named in order to speak candidly, said Swalwell was “too young and trying too hard,” showing up at party events so often that some activists were starting to get tired of him.
In fact, Swalwell has already been featured in a political attack ad in the state. The Iowa Republican Party aired a TV ad last month against Democratic state senate candidate Vicky Brenner focusing on the fact that Swalwell campaigned with her and describing him as a “liberal San Francisco congressman” who “wants to confiscate guns from law-abiding Americans.” (Swalwell has proposed legislation that would force assault weapon owners to sell their firearms back to the government.) Brenner lost her race, although local observers say her campaign was already a long shot before the attacks.
Swalwell, who’s become a fixture on cable news bashing the president over the last two years, said he would focus a potential presidential run on ambitious proposals like big new investments in medical research and green energy infrastructure.
“We’ve kind of seen too much incrementalism,” he said. “I think there’s an appetite among the American people to see someone who can unite us though big ideas.”
One thing that Swalwell argues differentiates himself from other potential White House contenders is that he’s “connected to what everyday Americans are going through,” growing up in a working-class family and still paying off nearly $100,000 in student loan debt.
“The water’s warm, and it’s going to be competitive,” Swalwell said of the 2020 race. “I actually like that we’re going to have a crowded primary — that’s better than a coronation. With a field that big, most qualified candidates are going to get an audition.”
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