Eric Swalwell appears on television a lot- enough that people in Iowa tell him that as he’s getting coffee in cafes in Dubuque.
The California congressman has been one of the most vocal members of the House Intelligence Committee about holding the president and his administration accountable in the Russia investigations.
Now, Swalwell’s trying to use that notoriety in a bid for president. But in a field of 21 Democrats, he’s learning that being a cable news darling isn’t enough. He’s currently polling at just 1% but he says he’s getting comfortable sticking out his hand to say he’s running for president.
“It’s very, I would say intimidating to say you’re running for president,” he said in a car ride between events in eastern Iowa at the beginning of the month.
“Every chance I get, I’m gonna introduce myself like I’m not starting, you know, as Vice President Biden here,” he added of his chances of making it all the way.
VICE News spent 48 hours with Swalwell in Iowa, where he’s trying to prove he can appeal to a broad demographic of Americans. He’s the son of a sheriff, but Swalwell is making gun control and reform his signature issue, even hosting one of his campaign launch events in Parkland, Florida.
At a Bellevue house party on Friday, Swalwell told a gathering of the Jackson County Democrats about his experience in Congress trying to work on the divisive issue.
“I came to Congress right after Sandy Hook happened,” he said. “I had hoped that I could be a part of a Congress that would actually do something about what had happened. Nothing.”
But as he campaigns, Swalwell is also trying to assure voters that his coastal progressive views don’t blind him to the needs of Trump voters. Swalwell says that his life experiences- born in Iowa, educated in the south, and representing a diverse district in California -gives him credibility with all voters.
“My parents they’re both Republicans. I was reaching across the dinner table before I ever had to reach across the aisle to work with the Republicans,” he told a group of about 20 people at the Uptown Cafe in Jefferson, Iowa. He joked that he goes on Fox News so that his parents will see him on TV.
When asked by Vice News why he’s running in such a crowded field, Swalwell more or less described a fading American dream as his motivation.
“I see a lot of people who work really hard just like my parents did but they don’t see it adding up to what it added up for my parents which was their son was the first in the family to go to college. Instead, they’re just running in place. They’re living paycheck to paycheck. They see a Washington and gridlock and not doing anything about it.”
Jose Ibarra, a city councilman in Storm Lake, Iowa, hosted Swalwell for a “fight night” party at his parents’ house on Saturday evening. Swalwell arrived with a case of beer and tucked into tacos and chips before making his case to a small- but more diverse group than is typical- about why they should support him for president.
Ibarra said he thinks any Democrat has a chance right now of beating Trump- and included Swalwell in that category.
“I mean we look at the Democrats right and they’re actually very educated. They know how to communicate with people. They know what’s wrong with the country,” Ibarra told VICE News in the backyard. “They know that we’re divided. Donald Trump has really done nothing for them, for the small guys. So I believe that if any Democrat can connect with the 99 percent. And make it into a point that he’s going to bring the country back together I think that anybody can beat Donald Trump.”
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