Campaigns

Citing disappointing fundraising and polls, Rep. Eric Swalwell ends presidential campaign

39-year-old who challenged Biden to ‘pass the torch’ has potential in House leadership

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., his wife, Brittany, their son, Nelson, 2, and daughter, Cricket, 7 months, in a May interview. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ending his bid for the presidential nomination Monday, Rep. Eric Swalwell said he will seek another term in the House by campaigning to end gun violence, fight climate change, and address student loan debt, the same issues he hoped would make him the favorite millennial in a crowded Democratic field.

The 39-year-old will also return to an appointed position in the House leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, which could help him advance whenever Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn retire. Pelosi and Clyburn will be 80 and Hoyer 81 after the next election.

“I’m fired up to do that work that I’ve already been doing in Congress,” Swalwell said, citing his positions on the steering, judiciary and intelligence committees.

Swalwell is the first candidate to exit the crowded field vying to take on President Donald Trump. He said at a press conference at his California campaign headquarters that he did not see a way for his campaign to continue to meet fundraising and polling thresholds to qualify for debates.

“I told my wife, my supporters and my constituents that we were running for only one reason: To win,” he said. “This was not a vanity project.”

Swalwell pegged his presidential campaign to gun control and becoming a voice for millennials, a strategy that briefly paid off during the June presidential debates when he urged former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, to “pass the torch” to a younger generation of leaders.

But Swalwell struggled to stand out amid a crowded field. He was one of three candidates under 40, and other candidates have proposed gun violence prevention plans that overshadowed his signature plan to ban assault weapons.

Swalwell said his proposal for a nationwide gun buyback had “moved the needle” during the June debate when Biden and Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, three front-runners on stage with him, said they would support such a measure.

“Communities across America who've been stricken by mass shootings, now know that at least three of the front-runners support this idea that these weapons of war do not belong in our community,” he said.

Biden praised Swalwell on Twitter for running a “passionate campaign” and said Democrats are “lucky to have leaders like Eric.”

Swalwell said he was not ready to endorse one of the remaining candidates.

“We need a candidate to be tested, I'll tell you that much,” he said, “Because a Donald Trump is the best political puncher ever. So whoever we send to that debate stage with President Trump is going to have to be able to take a punch, throw a punch, and then unite the country at the end of the campaign.”

Swalwell repeatedly ranked at the bottom of public opinion polls, and he acknowledged that those numbers did not budge after his appearance at the debate. 

 

Regarding his reelection to the House, Swalwell said that his district has struggled with the same national issues he had highlighted during his campaign.

“What my district will find is a congressman who's reinvigorated and ready to bring these issues front and center,” he said. “I believe, because we ran a credible campaign, one that is ending today, but a credible campaign, I'll be able to advocate in an even more effective way for my constituents.”

He also said he is mentoring “a 34-year-old mother of two kids in the South, who is embarking today on what will be seen as a long shot campaign for Congress.” That was an apparent reference to Kim Nelson. He promoted her campaign in South Carolina’s 4th District in a Tweet on Friday, saying, “We need more young moms in Congress!”

Swalwell, along with the Future Forum coalition of young Democratic members of Congress, launched a campaign called “Future 40” to recruit and support young candidates.

It’s unclear whether the candidate who launched her campaign for Swalwell’s 15th District House seat after he announced his presidential run will stay in the race.

Hayward City Council member Aisha Wahab’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but she previously told the Mercury News that she would “re-evaluate” her campaign should Swalwell run for re-election to the House instead.

Wahab, who is Afghan-American, was elected to the city council in 2018. She was previously an IT consultant with experience working with non-profit organizations. Last month she announced a handful of endorsements from local officials including a state assemblywoman.

Swalwell’s district in the Bay Area is heavily Democratic. He won re-election to a fourth term in 2018 by 46 points, and Hillary Clinton carried the district by 46 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solidly Democratic.

Bridget Bowman and Lindsey McPherson contributed. 

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