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Rep. Eric Swalwell drops out of the Democratic 2020 presidential primary

Swalwell made it on the first debate stage, but he’s struggled to get his name out there.

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) drops out of the Democratic presidential primary.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

California Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell, who has been running for president since April, is calling it quits.

With seven months until Iowa voters go to the caucuses, Swalwell announced he will be ending his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination Monday, saying he is ready to “go back to Washington.”

“Today ends our presidential campaign, but it is the beginning of an opportunity in Congress ... to bring that promise of America to all Americans,” Swalwell said.

Swalwell’s announcement comes just over a week after the first Democratic presidential debate, where the 38-year-old attempted to argue that the current septuagenarian primary frontrunners — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — should “pass the torch” to the younger generation.

Despite getting on the debate stage, Swalwell’s campaign has struggled to get a foothold in the packed Democratic field. Swalwell was still polling at zero percent after the debate, according to a CNN poll, and has struggled with fundraising.

Swalwell was running a somewhat generic middle-of-the-road Democratic campaign under the slogan “Do Good, Go Big, Be Bold”; he supported a public option for health care instead of Medicare-for-All, interest-free federal student loans, and debt-free college for public university students in a work-study program. More notably, he focused on gun violence prevention, running on a federal buyback and ban on semiautomatic weapons.

But even the most generous reading of a path to the nomination for Swalwell was always tenuous. He was neither the only Californian in the race — Harris, a much better-known statewide office holder with a more robust fundraising structure in place, is running — nor was he the best-known millennial in the race: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has increasingly taken up that mantle.

Even with Swalwell out of the race, there are still several other lesser-known House Democrats eying the White House, a group that includes Reps. John Delaney, Tim Ryan, and Seth Moulton, who didn’t even make the first debate.

Swalwell, who represents a safely Democratic San Francisco Bay Area district, intends to run for reelection in the House.

Eric Swalwell has had a growing presence in the House

It’s not hard to tell that Swalwell, an Iowa native, has ambitions to move up quickly as a politician.

A former city council member in Dublin, California, and Alameda County prosecutor, Swalwell came to Congress in 2013 by unseating a 20-term incumbent Pete Stark, who at the time was one of the most powerful California House Democrats.

He did it by painting Stark as too out of touch with the district and using Stark’s infamous temper against him. (Stark once called a female lawmaker a “whore,” a black official “a disgrace to his race,” and a male lawmaker a “little fruitcake.” The police were called to a House committee meeting in the last instance.) Still, few thought a Swalwell victory plausible, particularly in the Bay Area, where entrenched Democratic lawmakers have run the show for decades.

He’s since gotten himself on the House Democratic leadership team, as well as a spot on two high-profile committees: the House Judiciary Committee, which has been charged with investigating Trump’s immigration policy, and the intelligence committee, which continues to investigate foreign influence in the 2016 elections.

Notably, that aspect of his experience has also gained a reputation among Republicans, who openly chastised him for using his committee positions to raise a national presence, whether on TV or at the hearings. At one hearing with then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins publicly rebuked Swalwell, telling him to “ask questions that are actually part of this [hearing] instead of running for president.”

Now Swalwell is out of the running for the White House, and he’ll have to redirect that ambition in the House.