Lit­tle-known Democrats dream big Face time gives dark horse can­di­dates chance to break out of pres­i­den­tial pack

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Rep. Eric Swal­well isn’t shy­ing away from his in­ter­est in run­ning for the White House, even as some of the likely 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial con­tenders play it coy about their po­lit­i­cal fu­tures.

The Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat is among a num­ber of lesser­known fig­ures test­ing the wa­ters for a pres­i­den­tial run, ahead of what ac­tivists in early pri­mary states say is likely to be a rush to de­clare can­di­da­cies early next year.

“If I were a lesser-known per­son at this point, I would be as open as pos­si­ble about my am­bi­tions be­cause I think there will be a del­uge of can­di­dates and big names jump­ing in pretty quickly,” said Sean Bag­niewski, chair­man of the Polk County Democrats in Iowa. “I think you know who the big names are likely to be this cau­cus sea­son, and you might see lit­er­ally a dozen peo­ple try­ing to see if they can be the break­out star.”

That could be crit­i­cal amid a field that is shap­ing up as the high­est-pow­ered in Amer­i­can his­tory, with a for­mer vice pres­i­dent, a for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral, a for­mer first lady and sec­re­tary of state, a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, one or two bil­lion­aires and at least eight sen­a­tors sig­nal­ing in­ter­est.

Mr. Swal­well had cam­paign peo­ple in Iowa in the run-up to the midterms and has made nu­mer­ous trips to the state where he grew up and where he said he has been lis­ten­ing to vot­ers and shar­ing ideas as he pre­pares to make “a big de­ci­sion.”

“I’m con­sid­er­ing run­ning — se­ri­ously,” Mr. Swal­well told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Lead­ing the coun­try starts with mak­ing the case in Iowa.”

He will re­turn to Des Moines this month to head­line the hol­i­day party for Progress Iowa, a liberal group, with three other pos­si­ble con­tenders: Sen. Jeff Merkley of Ore­gon, South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg and busi­ness­man An­drew Yang.

Mr. Yang and Rep. John K. De­laney of Mary­land, who has had a strong pres­ence in the state, have al­ready started cam­paign­ing. West Vir­ginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda also has thrown his hat into the ring.

A long list of oth­ers are thought to be ex­plor­ing un­der­dog bids, in­clud­ing for­mer Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary Ju­lian Cas­tro, Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard of Hawaii, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los An­ge­les, Gov. Steve Bul­lock of Mon­tana, for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Pa­trick and au­thor Mar­i­anne Wil­liamson.

The for­mer cam­paign fi­nance man­ager for Sen. Sher­rod Brown also has put out feel­ers for the Ohio Demo­crat, and ac­tivists say for­mer New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was slated to be in Des Moines on last Tues­day.

David Yepsen, who cov­ered Iowa pol­i­tics as a jour­nal­ist for decades, said hav­ing the early con­tests in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, two rel­a­tively cozy states, is that ob­scure can­di­dates can com­pete just by hav­ing en­ergy and a con­vinc­ing mes­sage.

He said Mr. De­laney, for ex­am­ple, has vis­ited all 99 Iowa coun­ties. “While he’s not well-known out­side Iowa, he’s be­com­ing bet­ter-known to Iowa Demo­cratic ac­tivists,” he added.

The best ex­am­ple of an ob­scure can­di­date’s break­through was Jimmy Carter’s per­for­mance in 1976, Mr. Yepsen said.

“Un­known can­di­dates have an ad­van­tage be­cause of the ‘ex­pec­ta­tions game,’” he said. “No one ex­pects them to do well, so if they do bet­ter than ex­pected, that’s called news to re­porters and gen­er­ates me­dia at­ten­tion for them.”

A lot of me­dia at­ten­tion lately has been on Rep. Beto O’Rourke af­ter his near vic­tory over Repub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.

“Ev­ery­one wants to know about Beto,” Mr. Bag­niewski said. “They don’t have a team they have been build­ing for a year or two years. All the at­ten­tion is on them.”

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den, as well as Sens. Ka­mala D. Harris of Cal­i­for­nia, Elizabeth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts and Corey A. Booker of New Jersey also are cre­at­ing buzz and have started hir­ing op­er­a­tives or are sur­round­ing them­selves with peo­ple who are well­con­nected in the state.

“Things are start­ing to pick up,” said Bret Niles, chair­man of the Linn County Democrats in east­ern Iowa.

The post­elec­tion ac­tion also has grad­u­ally picked up New Hamp­shire, home to the first-in-the-na­tion pri­mary, where likely can­di­dates are look­ing to reach out to ac­tivists.

“We’ve got­ten so many calls that Amer­i­can Air­lines may have to add an ad­di­tional flight into Manch­ester,” said Neil Levesque, di­rec­tor of the New Hamp­shire In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at St. Anselm Col­lege. “The elec­tion cre­ated a bit of eu­pho­ria amongst Democrats, and New Hamp­shire is the per­fect place to try out your mes­sage and abil­ity to gain trac­tion.”

With such a mas­sive field form­ing and more liberal choices, there is a mount­ing sense that Sen. Bernard San­ders of Ver­mont might have peaked in 2016.

“I think most peo­ple who were big Bernie sup­port­ers that I meet on cam­pus are still like, ‘I like Bernie, but I don’t want him to run again,’” said Taylor Blair, pres­i­dent of the Col­lege Democrats at Iowa State Univer­sity. “They want some­thing new.”

That could pro­vide an open­ing for Mr. Swal­well, who said he comes from a gen­er­a­tion that he sees as the most in­ven­tive and op­ti­mistic, and wants big solutions for the na­tion’s health care, en­vi­ron­men­tal and gun vi­o­lence problems.

“I think most Amer­i­cans just want you to be straight with them, too,” he said, al­lud­ing to his in­ter­est in run­ning. “There is no sense in be­ing shy about want­ing to help peo­ple.”


Rep. Eric Swal­well, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, has made nu­mer­ous trips to Iowa, where he said he has been lis­ten­ing to vot­ers and shar­ing ideas as he pre­pares to make “a big de­ci­sion.”

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