DUBLIN, Calif. (CN) – Of the nearly 20 Democrats scurrying for position in the 2020 presidential race, Eric Swalwell may have the most to lose. A public servant since the time he graduated from law school, he doesn’t come from wealth and he’s still paying off thousands in student loans.
Most importantly for Swalwell’s wife and two young kids, he stands to lose his job in Congress if voters don’t send him all the way to the White House.
Capping off his first week on the campaign trail, the 38-year-old California congressman got a dose of home cooking Sunday and gave his first speech in front of his former bosses, friends and family.
“Now I know the mountain that I face is steep, and you may have heard there are a few other Democrats interested in the job,” Swalwell told the crowd gathered at an event in his hometown of Dublin. “That probably should discourage me and it may discourage you. But I’ve got you, we’ve got each other and we can do this!”
Seeking a way to cut through the clutter of the political news cycle, the California congressman turned to a familiar place earlier this week to launch his presidential bid – television.
After spending the better part of two years talking to Americans on the cable news circuit, Swalwell threw his hat into the ring last Monday on “The Late Show with Steven Colbert.” He used the interview to nail down gun control as his first campaign plank.
Swalwell is calling for immediate legislation that would ban semiautomatic assault weapons, implement universal background checks for gun and ammunition purchases and increase gun violence restraining order laws. Under his gun control plan – which he says is more aggressive than any other proposed by his Democratic challengers – Americans not willing to give up their guns or agree to store them at hunting clubs could be criminally prosecuted.
Buying back an estimated 15 million assault weapons from Americans would cost taxpayers around $15 billion but wouldn’t include the federal government going door to door, Swalwell says.
“That’s not a popular idea with everyone and it’s going to cost some money. But it will cost a lot less than loss to a grieving community,” Swalwell said.
Swalwell’s website states that the 38-year-old candidate is “deliberately charting a bipartisan course,” but there’s no doubt his push to take guns won’t be well received by gun-owning Republicans. He routinely goes after the National Rifle Association and did so again during his opening event Tuesday in Florida, 15 miles away from Parkland High School.
Rena Golding, who works at a restaurant in Swalwell’s congressional district, acknowledged that his gun control message won’t sit well with the powerful NRA, but that “somebody needs to speak up on gun control.” She had never seen Swalwell speak and hasn’t committed to voting for him, but said he came across Sunday as “humble and relatable.”
After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law, Swalwell earned a job as an Alameda County deputy district attorney. He said working as a prosecutor in Oakland showed him the impact gun violence has on both victims and the community as a whole.
Nancy O’Malley, Alameda County District Attorney, said that even back in 2004, Swalwell had a “vision for the future.”
“He was a mix of personality, engagement, confidence, humility and he was 23 years old,” O’Malley said at Swalwell’s event.
After stops at the DA’s office and local government, the former college soccer player landed in Congress at the age of 31 after upsetting 20-term Democratic Rep. Pete Stark in 2012.
On a breezy and sunny spring afternoon, a diverse San Francisco Bay Area crowd jammed into a high school quad to hear the upstart’s kick-off speech that centered on gun control and the economy.
Sticking mostly to prepared remarks that he used his initial stops in Florida and Iowa, Swalwell portrayed himself as an average guy raised in a classic suburban town. He railed off a list of the first jobs he had as a teenager, such as newspaper delivery boy, babysitter and sports referee. The crowd lathered applause when Swalwell said he was the first in his family to attend college.
“To be fair, where we lived was not Mar-a-Lago,” Swalwell joked. “But we lived right smack in the middle of the middle class and those were during the good times.”
As the second youngest candidate to Pete Buttigieg, it will be critical for Swalwell to perform well with millennial voters in California and the other states holding early primaries.
Swalwell, who leads a group of around 50 Democratic representatives known as the FutureForum, is also taking on a cause familiar to millions of millennials: overwhelming student loan debt. If elected, he’s promising no-interest federal student loans and other programs meant to eliminate college debt.
“The memories of college should last a lifetime, the interest payments should not,” Swalwell told the receptive home crowd.
There’s more perceived risk involved in running for Swalwell than the U.S. senators currently in the race- California lawmakers moved the state’s primary up from June to March, meaning he won’t be able to jump back into the race for his House seat if his presidential bid lasts into 2020.
But If Swalwell can turn his home field advantage in his native Iowa and California into votes, the fundraising dollars are likely to follow.
As the homecoming vibes wear off, the Swalwell campaign will eagerly await the next batch of polls and try to drum up enough fundraising to land him in the Democratic debates. Next week he’s scheduled a town hall in Nevada and an appearance in New Hampshire.
“I need you, I need you, and I need you!” Swalwell said as he circled the stage. “Only in a country as generous as ours can a moment like this be possible.”