The jokes about this development in the 2020 presidential race write themselves: That this is about the twentieth time I’ve heard some variation on this quip tells you everything you need to know about the predictability of California congressman Eric Swalwell’s withdrawal from the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. As a 30-something white male House backbencher, Swalwell was always a longshot for viability in a field with eight senators (or former senators), three governors (or former governors), and lots of diversity. He was apparently not bored enough with his day job to give it up, and it’s to preserve his House seat before it was gobbled up by other ambitious Democrats that he has apparently decided to call it a day after failing to make a big splash in the first candidate debate, for which he qualified by the skin of his teeth. Swalwell did enter the race with some assets. He had lots of cable appearances to talk about Russian interference in the 2016 elections as a member of the House intelligence committee, and something of a corner on gun control as a signature issue. He was also more aggressive than his fellow under-40 candidate Pete Buttigieg in stressing his youth in contrast to the late-septuagenarians Biden and Sanders. You get the sense Swalwell thought the fact that he lived in Iowa for his first five years or his life would excite residents of the First-in-the-Nation Caucus State, but they’re a pretty jaded bunch when it comes to pandering, and his East Bay district isn’t much like Cedar Rapids or Council Bluffs. In his one and only debate, Swalwell did have a couple of openings to shine that he failed to fully exploit. His “pass the torch” generational challenge to Biden came across as heavy-handed and perhaps even churlish. And his effort to gig Buttigieg for failing to fire the South Bend police chief after a cop shot an African-American with his body camera turned off fell flat when Marianne Williamson changed the subject before Swalwell could seal the deal by pointing out Mayor Pete had earlier fired his city’s first black police chief. In withdrawing, Swalwell noted his low poll standing and inadequate fundraising, though in reality he’s just one of a number of candidates with similar problems (e.g., John Hickenlooper). He’s technically the second announced candidate to quit, with former congressman Richard Ojeda bagging his bid in January after just a couple of months. But there’s something to be said for backing out before the futility of it all becomes embarrassing, which will likely be the fate of fellow-Californian Tom Steyer, who is apparently about to jump into the 2020 presidential field a few months too late. Besides, Swalwell won’t be Joe Biden’s age until 2057, when he can choose to push the age envelope by running for president in 2060, or instead pass the torch.
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