Fake debate: Remember when Eric Swalwell debated someone dressed up as Pete Stark?

Eric Swalwell, left, in a mock debate with an actor portraying the 80-year-old Pete Stark in October 2012. Slate.com said Swalwell lost the fake debate.

As Rep. Eric Swalwell is poised to participate in Thursday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate, it is difficult to gauge how he might perform based on his limited experience in the format. Swalwell has basically appeared in two consequent candidate forums since coming on the scene during the 2012 campaign in the 15th Congressional District.

First was the infamous forum at Hayward City Hall in which Stark labelled the upstart Swalwell a “bush leaguer” and “pipsqueak” and later accused him of accepting bribes from a Dublin developer.

The other was during the 2014 primary when he faced former state senator Ellen Corbett at a forum in Castro Valley. In both cases, Swalwell attempted to avoid conflict with his more senior opponents and took few rhetorical risks.

But there was another little-known debate, uncovered this week by Slate, and reported by the East Bay Citizen just three weeks before the 2012 primary.

After months of Swalwell and the local press haranguing Stark over his failure to appear in debates, Swalwell’s campaign followed a pattern of producing amateurish videos. In this case, a young actor powdered up his hair and eyebrows to look like the 80-year-old Stark. The portrayal was an over-the-top version of a bloviating old man. Swalwell, meanwhile, played along like he was seriously debating Stark. Swalwell’s bland performance was actually similar to his other real-life debate performances.

Over the years, Swalwell has developed a media persona that seems to work as a cable news talking head, but his full-screen performances still differ from the half-screen, quarter-screen versions that so many have seen on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News over the past two years or more.

He appeared extremely robotic when announcing his presidential campaign with Stephen Colbert and continued the nervous tic on other national programs such as “The View.”

As viewers of Wednesday night’s debate now realize, actually seeing how candidates move while under the telescope of television cameras can significantly boost their campaigns (like Julian Castro) or torpedo them (like Beto O’Rourke).

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