Government

First major Democrat drops presidential campaign, but will another candidate join?

Iowa native Eric Swalwell out - but is billionaire Tom Steyer in?

California Rep. Eric Swalwell, now a former presidential candidate, speaks June 9 at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Hall of Fame celebration at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
California Rep. Eric Swalwell, now a former presidential candidate, speaks June 9 at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Hall of Fame celebration at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Iowa native Eric Swalwell, now a congressman from California, on Monday became the first of two dozen major Democratic candidates for president to abandon the race after his campaign failed to gain traction.

Swalwell, now of the San Francisco area, has languished for months near the bottom of the polls despite his frequent swings through Iowa leading up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

But as Swalwell was quitting the race, another Californian — hedgefund billionaire Tom Steyer, who in January announced in a West Des Moines stop that he would not run for president — was preparing to announce he has changed his mind.

Swalwell was born in the small town of Sac City in Northwest Iowa — a pedigree he touted on the Iowa campaign trail — but left with his family when he was 5.

At the July 9 Democratic Hall of Fame celebration in Cedar Rapids featuring 19 presidential candidates, he challenged Iowa Democrats to “go big, be bold and do good” on issues by building on their 2018 midterm election wins.

He had confirmed a return this Sunday to attend Progress Iowa’s Corn Feed, which is being held this year in NewBo. Ten — now nine — presidential candidates plan to attend.

Overall, Swalwell held 70 campaign events in Iowa and visited 28 counties, a Des Moines Register database shows.

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But Monday, he said in a news conference that he was “fired up” to return to Congress. Nonetheless, he faces a primary challenge there as he seeks a fifth term.

“Today ends our presidential campaign, but it is the beginning of an opportunity in Congress with a new perspective shaped by the lives that have touched mine and our campaign throughout these last three months to bring that promise of America to all Americans,” he said.

He maintained that his short-lived presidential run was “not a vanity project” and argued that he had succeeded in pushing the Democratic front-runners to support his plan for an assault weapons buyback.

Vikki Brown, the Black Hawk County Democratic chair, was the chairwoman of Swalwell’s Iowa campaign.

“I’m really proud of the work he did while he was here in Iowa and across the nation for that matter,” Brown said.

“I really saw a pragmatic, passionate, smart young leader with a bright future,” she said.

The 38-year-old congressman had sought to cast himself as the candidate of a younger generation but was eclipsed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 37, of South Bend, Ind., and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, 46.

Indeed, the biggest moment of Swalwell’s run was a widely mocked attempt in a June 27 debate to cast Democratic front-runner Joe Biden as too old.

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He said the former vice president, 76, “was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago; he is still right today.”

“I’m still holding on to that torch,” Biden replied.

But that moment was overshadowed by California Sen. Kamala Harris confronting Biden for opposing forced school busing for racial integration in the 1970s.

If Steyer does enter the race this week as several media outlet quoting unnamed sources have reported, he will join a crowded field after the first nationally televised debate was already held.

But beyond a large bank account, Steyer enters the race with one thing most of his rivals lack: a large and sturdy political infrastructure.

Groups he has funded, NextGen and Need to Impeach, have been aggressively recruiting members and building a national network of activists pushing impeachment of President Donald Trump, action to combat climate change, universal health care and other progressive goals.

Need to Impeach has 8 million members on its email list, making it one of the country’s biggest advocacy groups. Steyer holds regular calls for its members, with Hollywood director Rob Reiner joining him on the most recent one.

Steyer, who financed a series of television ads where he asserted his case for impeachment, brought the 30-city “Need to Impeach” tour in May 2018 to Cedar Rapids.

But at the time, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann predicted that a San Fransisco billionaire would not play well in Iowa.

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“Ask Tom Steyer what a cow pie is,” Kaufmann said at the time. “He’ll think it’s something you put whipped cream on for dessert.”

The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier contributed to this report.

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