AMES, Iowa (CN) – The crowd of about 150 that turned out on a blustery Thursday night for a town hall meeting with California congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Eric Swalwell was not the stereotypical Iowa audience some might expect.
Among those who stood 10 or 12 deep to pose questions to Swalwell was an architect, a microbiologist from Afghanistan awaiting U.S. asylum, a teacher of world religions, a chemical engineering student and a factory worker. They posed questions on climate change, passenger rail, food insecurity, the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, net neutrality and the European Union copyright standard.
The questioners and the questions were a reflection of the setting at the Iowa State University Memorial Union. And it was a mostly liberal crowd, judging from the hearty applause for Swalwell’s talk of gun control and zero-percent-interest student loans.
Poised and voluble, Swalwell was comfortable on his feet, speaking extemporaneously and fielding questions for more than 90 minutes. But this night, Swalwell’s job was to introduce himself to an audience that sees a lot of presidential candidates come and go during the Iowa caucus season.
Swalwell announced his candidacy on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on April 8. Thursday’s event in Ames was one of 20 or more trips the 38-year-old from the Bay Area of California has made to Iowa since 2016. It is in one sense coming home – Swalwell was born in Sac City, Iowa. Eric was 5 when the family left the state, and moved around a bit before settling in Dublin, California.
Swalwell opened with a stump speech heavy on an optimistic vision about how more Americans should be participating in the American dream, a speech he repeatedly punctuated with his campaign slogan: “Go big. Be bold. Do good.”
The promise of America, he said, should be that, for all Americans, “no matter who you are, who you love, what you worship, where you are from,” your “blood, sweat and tears will mean a better life for yourself and fulfilling your dreams for your kids.”
His prescription for fulfilling that vision includes dealing with three major challenges this country faces: health care, education, and gun violence.
On health care, a coverage-for-all plan: “If you’re sick, you’re seen. If you’re seen, you don’t go broke.”
On education, he proposes a “college bargain.” If you do work-study and public service while in school, you emerge debt free. “If you work your way through college, college should work for you,” he said.
On gun violence: “I am the only candidate in this election who calls for a ban and buy-back of all 15 million assault weapons in America. He said a parent’s right to hug her child when she comes home from school “is greater than any other right in the Constitution.”
When he began taking questions, one woman wanted to know how he would reach out to rural America and farmers, who feel left behind. “We have to win rural votes back,” he acknowledged, and the current administration’s reckless trade policies have hurt farmers.
In response to a question from an Iowa State University senior on climate change, Swalwell said, “I am unapologetically a supporter of the Green New Deal.”
What about “packing” the U. S. Supreme Court to add more liberal judges? He said he does not support adding more judges to the court; rather, as president he said he would work with a Republican Senate and “pack the court with good judges.”
Swalwell got mostly positive reviews after the town hall from those in attendance.
“He worked the crowd well,” said Todd Klindt, 45, of Ames. Klindt said Swalwell has his vote – although that might be explained in part by the fact that Klindt is, like Swalwell, a native of Sac City, Iowa.
Beverly Clark, 74, who farms with her husband in Jasper County, Iowa, had already formed a favorable impression of Swalwell, and she made the trip to Ames Thursday just to hear what he had to say. “What I like about him is he has real experience,” she said.
Jeff Shady, 39, of Story City, Iowa, however, was not persuaded by Swalwell on gun control. “I don’t think there is any reason to have less firearms,” said Shady, a gun owner who uses them mostly for target practice. “He is talking about talking away people’s rights,” Shady said.