Eric Swalwell becomes the first Democrat to drop out of the 2020 presidential race

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, during an event held at the Iowa City Public Library. Monday, Feb 18, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

After struggling to get attention in a field of two dozen candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California dominated the 2020 election new cycle for a moment on Monday, by dropping out of the race.

“I promised my family, constituents and supporters that I would always be honest about our chances,” Swalwell said in a Monday afternoon press conference. “After the first Democratic presidential debate, our polling and fundraising effort weren’t what we had hoped for, and I no longer see a path to the nomination.”

Swalwell had been one of the most active of the 2020 aspirants in Iowa, even before he finally declared he was a candidate during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in April. By then, he’d already made almost 20 campaign-style visits to Iowa. Still, in the most recent Iowa Poll, support for Swalwell was at less than one percent.

The California congressman possesses many characteristics that, in any other presidential election, might have made him stand out in a crowd of candidates (especially since in earlier years, the crowd would have been much smaller). He’s 38-years-old — very young for a presidential candidate — but this year there are two even younger candidates, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (both 37). He’s from California — the state that sends the largest number of delegates to the Democratic National Convention — but so are Sen. Kamala Harris, author Marianne Williamson and businessman Andrew Yang. He has experience in government at the federal level, but that’s not particularly impressive when 17 candidates can make the same claim. (If you count former Alaska senator Mike Gravel, who has said he’s only running to get into the televised debates, it’s 18.)

Swalwell’s background as a prosecutor in one of California’s largest counties (Alameda, pop. 1.7 million) would have been an asset for almost any Democratic presidential candidate for two decades, starting in the late ’80s, when most Democrats were eager to prove they were “tough on crime.” It’s debatable whether such a background is particularly helpful in the current primary race, and even if it is, Swalwell is again not alone — Kamala Harris was district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, before being elected to the U.S. Senate.

(Technically, Swalwell can’t even claim to be the first Democrat to drop out. In January, former West Virginia State Senator Richard Ojeda announced he was no longer running for president. But despite filing the necessary paperwork with Federal Election Commission in November and making a few TV appearances, Ojeda didn’t launch a full campaign and was never really part of the 2020 race.)

“Go big and be bold,” was how Swalwell described his approach during a February event at the Iowa City Public Library. But most of Swalwell’s policy proposals were not particularly big or bold compared to other candidates’ agendas.

“We should have Medicare for anyone who wants it in America,” Swalwell said in his speech at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration on June 9. Other candidates have called for Medicare-for-all to replace private health insurance and provide universal health care. Swalwell was just advocating for Medicare as a public option in addition to private insurance.

“When it comes to education, the lessons and memories of college, those should last a lifetime,” Swalwell said at the Hall of Fame. “The debt should not. We should have zero percent interest on every student loan in America.” Other candidates have called for the federal government to eliminate most or all student loan debt, and make public colleges and universities tuition-free.

On gun control, Swalwell did go further than many candidates, promising at the Hall of Fame celebration “to ban and buy back 15 million assault weapons.”

“I’ll never forget the people I met and the lessons I learned while traveling around our great nation — especially in communities most affected by gun violence,” Swalwell said on Monday. He promised to “take those lessons back to Congress.”

Swalwell intends to run for reelection to Congress in 2020. The 15th Congressional District in Northern California is considered a safe seat for Democrats, but in April, while Swalwell’s sights were still set on the White House, Democrat Aisha Wahab, a city councilmember in the Alameda County town of Hayward, announced her candidacy for the seat currently held by Swalwell.

Even as rumors of Swalwell’s leaving the race began to circulate over the weekend, there were also rumors that another California Democrat, billionaire Tom Steyer, will announce this week that he is running for president.