No, Swalwell Won’t Be the Last Democrat to Exit

A silly story for the silly season.

Scrolling through my news feed this morning, I was amused by the headline to Lisa Lehrer’s NYT piece “Farewell, Swalwell: As One 2020 Democrat Drops Out, Will Others Follow?” The body isn’t any more insightful:

Democrats had fretted over the possibility of a drawn-out primary battle, but strategists, politicians and officials are growing more confident that the field will narrow soon after the Iowa caucuses in early February.

Well . . . yeah. That’s how it works. Every. Single. Cycle.

More useful is this:

Mr. Swalwell’s exit may be a harbinger for other ambitious politicians failing to make a dent in the 2020 race.

Aides to former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado recommended he drop out of the primary and challenge Senator Cory Gardner, considered to be one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans.

In Iowa Sunday, Mr. Hickenlooper, whose campaign recently lost some of its top staffers, acknowledged that running for president involves “a bunch of skills that don’t come naturally to me,” but vowed to stay in the race. He has until mid-March to enter the Senate race.

Some Democrats have also urged Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana to run for Senate, hoping the popular governor could win an unlikely Democratic seat in a red state. He would also have until spring to make that decision.

But in Texas, the filing deadline to challenge Senator John Cornyn, another potentially vulnerable Republican incumbent, is Dec. 9 — nearly two months before any primary votes are cast. And although Democrats have already recruited M.J. Hegar, a veteran who won attention for her 2018 congressional campaign, both Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro are better known in the state, and both have been pushed to run for the seat.

The remaining members of Congress in the 2020 race hail from states that have laws allowing them to pursue two offices at once. (New Jersey recently passed legislation permitting it, a bill know as “Cory’s Law.”) But just because some candidates can run for both offices doesn’t mean they should.

In Hawaii, State Senator Kai Kahele is seeking Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s seat, telling Vice News that she has a “tiger on her tail, and she’s going to be in trouble.” In Massachusetts, a second woman announced on Monday that she’d be making a primary run for Representative Seth Moulton’s seat. At least five other Democrats have left the door open to jumping into the race.

While it takes a certain ego to throw one’s hat into the Presidential ring, it’s hard to believe Swalwell, Hickenlooper, Bullock, Castro, Gabbard and some of the others actually believed they had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the 2020 nomination. Presumably, they either wanted to raise their profile for other races, get a platform for a particular message they wanted to get out, get on the Vice Presidential short list, or some other goal.

But even those who thought they could pull it off somehow are going to be constrained by the rules. The Democratic National Committee has wisely made it increasingly harder to get on the debate stage as the calendar progresses toward actual voting. Maybe five or six candidates will have the money and/or polling support to continue into the third round. The rest will be invisible.

We’re already at a point, after just one round of debates, where I think the likely winner has been narrowed down to three candidates: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. Bernie Sanders is fading and lacks broad appeal. Pete Buttigieg is interesting but is just too much of a long shot.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kylopod says:

    He won’t be the last to have his name misspelled, either.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: ? “Stalwell” is how he spells it on his Congressional website.

  3. Andy says:

    Just like the Highlander, there can be only one.

  4. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: Huh? I clicked on the link, and it distinctly says “Swalwell” everywhere. It says it even in the articles you linked to above! I think you need your morning coffee.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: Ah, weird. I kept misreading it as “Stalwell”—which is a much more common name—but wanted to spell it “Stallwell,” so was focusing on the unusual spelling and somehow over-looking the “w.”

  6. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: It sounds like the name of an Austin Powers babe.

  7. There will be a lot of deck clearing after the second debate. While the criteria for that debate will be basically the same as the first, subsequent debates will have more stringent criteria for participation, as they should.

    At this point I would say that anyone who isn’t polling above 2% needs to think long and hard about why they’re still in the race. Additionally some of them — Hickenlooper, O’Rourke, and Bullock specifically — ought to be thinking about running for Senate instead of President. They could do their party much better, and would arguably up the odds that the Democrats could retake the Senate next year.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “…ought to be thinking about running for Senate instead of President.” And probably are–and have a minimum of 5 months to do it. Don’t be in such a hurry to end the “horse race,” Doug. Do you really want to be limited to “Trump’s latest outrage” this early?

  9. Gustopher says:

    While it takes a certain ego to throw one’s hat into the Presidential ring, it’s hard to believe Swalwell, Hickenlooper, Bullock, Castro, Gabbard and some of the others actually believed they had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the 2020 nomination.

    I would have thought all of them would be doing better than the mayor of a small city in Indiana. Every nomination has its wacky surprises, so why not Zoidberg? Or Hickenlooper?

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: For a lot of these bunnies, I suspect it’s due to a) boredom b) wanting to tick off something else on their bucket list, and c) a feeling that well if Trump can get elected, why shouldn’t I try?