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Incoming House freshmen routinely enter Congress instantly marked for a re-election challenge by the opposition, but one 2012 winner is facing such political headwinds from within.
California Democratic Rep.-elect Eric Swalwell is hiring staff, awaiting committee assignments and just found a place to live in Washington, D.C., after knocking off the dean of his own party’s congressional delegation. Yet even before being sworn in or casting a single roll call vote, a couple of potential intraparty challengers have appeared in his rearview mirror.
“My back is not big enough for all the targets that are on it,” Swalwell said in a phone interview.
The prosecutor and Dublin city councilman, who just turned 32, capitalized last month on the Golden State’s new top-two primary system to defeat Democratic Rep. Pete Stark, despite being outspent 2-to-1 by the 20-term incumbent.
A widely held assumption for the past year was that a few potential successors to Stark were holding off their ambition until the 81-year-old retired in 2014. At least two had already filed with the Federal Election Commission and began raising money in anticipation of an open-seat race.
Swalwell’s successful candidacy threw a wrench in those gears, and an East Bay seat expected to open in two years is now held by a young upstart with no patience for waiting his turn.
“We’re certainly not here to be a one-hit wonder, so to speak,” Swalwell said. “The best defense is a good offense. If we’re doing our job in the district and delivering on what we told the voters we’d do, I think good things will happen.”
Swalwell, who defeated Stark 52 percent to 48 percent in the 15th District, has some fundraising catching up to do. After spending $764,000 on his race, Swalwell ended the election with just $20,000 in cash on hand.
California Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, who had banked $105,000 in her congressional campaign account by Sept. 30, has begun seeking endorsements for a potential Swalwell challenge. According to a source in the room, Corbett asked for endorsements at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee event last week in Oakland, where Swalwell’s speech received what was described as a rousing ovation.
Ro Khanna, an attorney and former Commerce deputy assistant secretary in the Obama administration, had just more than $1 million in the bank as of Sept. 30. Khanna lives on the district border in Fremont, and his campaign account does not specify which seat he would seek. Khanna said he has not yet made a decision about running.