Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary Monday, becoming the first major candidate to flee the field in what analysts expect to be a steady winnowing.
Mr. Swalwell said he had no regrets about the run and that he could have kept going, but he didn’t see a viable path to victory.
“I told my wife, and our staff, and my constituents, and our supporters we are only running for one reason: to win, and to make a difference,” he told reporters at his campaign headquarters in California. “We have to be honest about our own candidacy’s viability.”
Instead he will run for reelection to keep his House seat, he said.
But even as he dropped out, another major name, billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, hinted he may be rethinking his previous decision in January and might jump into the race after all.
Mr. Steyer said earlier this year he wanted to focus his energy on impeaching President Trump, but The Atlantic reported he could now announce a presidential campaign as early as Tuesday.
“It’s rough out there, but welcome to the race, Tom,” Mr. Swalwell said. “I wish him well.”
But it’s doubtful Mr. Steyer will be able to make the stage for the next Democratic debate, to be held July 30-31 in Detroit.
That debate will feature 20 candidates, meaning some will not make the stage — and will likely soon follow Mr. Swalwell, predicted Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
“They’re free to stay in the race if they want, but it’s going to be a losing proposition if they can’t make the debate stage at the end of this month,” Mr. Bannon said. “There are some candidates out there who [are] just hanging on in the race by their fingernails right now, and I don’t think those candidates can sustain another hit.”
Mr. Swalwell, 38, had tried to make gun control a central focus of his campaign, calling for an Australian-style mandatory buyback of certain semiautomatic rifles. He counted as a success the fact that several contenders seemed to embrace the buyback idea at the Democratic National Committee’s first presidential debate last month.
In a quasi-viral moment, Mr. Swalwell also invoked front-runner Joseph R. Biden’s own past words to argue that it was time to “pass the torch” to a new generation.
But in a crowded field that features three other sitting House members, the congressman failed to garner much support in public polling, and was in danger of getting bumped off the debate stage later this month.
The latest Real Clear Politics polling average on the 2020 Democratic field has Mr. Biden in the lead at 26% support, followed by Sen. Kamala D. Harris at about 15%, and Sen. Bernard Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at about 14% apiece.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is fifth with about 5% support — but he has posted the largest fundraising haul among Democrats so far, with $24.8 million raised from April to June.
“Once you get past Mayor Pete, I think it’s time for the candidates to take a long look in the mirror,” Mr. Bannon said.
Contenders like Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris, Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren, and Mr. Buttigieg are virtually guaranteed one of the 20 slots at the next debate, hosted by CNN.
To make the stage, candidates have to register at least 1% support in three polls or secure 65,000 individual donations, including 200 from each state, to qualify.
CNN plans to air a drawing July 18 to figure out the exact lineup for each night of the debates.
Mr. Swalwell’s departure from the race means that at least one person who didn’t make the debate stage last month, like Montana Gov. Steve Bullock or Rep. Seth Moulton, will get their shot in Detroit.
Some candidates have resorted to creative tactics to qualify — or to boost their fellow long-shot rivals.
Author Marianne Williamson sent a fundraising email over the weekend on behalf of former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, saying he was closing in on the number of individual donors he’d need to qualify for the July debate.
“Diverse and provocative voices like Gravel’s are so important to move the debates and conversation about our nation’s peace and prosperity forward,” she said in the email to supporters.
But Mr. Gravel doesn’t sound like he plans to be there. His campaign was soliciting ideas online as to where it should donate leftover campaign funds.
Wayne Messam, mayor of Miramar, Florida, also failed to qualify for last month’s debate. Former Rep. Joe Sestak announced his own White House bid last month after the first debate lineups were set.
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