‘Run at your own risk’: Swalwell told candidates eyeing his seat last March that he’d quit by the fall

Eric Swalwell’s campaign for president was initially based on a straight-forward premise: I’m serious about winning the Democratic nomination, so much so that I will not seek re-election to a safe seat in Congress. “Burn the boats,” Swalwell told San Francisco Chronicle political reporter Joe Garofoli in a podcast last February. “I would want people to know that I’m putting my all into this,” Swalwell added, “I don’t have a life insurance policy.”

But over the next three months of Swalwell’s short-lived presidential run, he often hedged from the initial bold assertion. Over the past month, Swalwell said he would re-evaluate his situation with greater frequency leading to a quote he gave to The Washington Post in June that created a fail-safe for his political future. “I don’t have to make a decision until December,” he said of the filing deadline for his seat in the March 2020 primary. “If I’m still in this, on the debate stage in December, then yeah, I’m running for president.”

But, as early as this March, just weeks before announcing his presidential campaign on April 8, Swalwell’s surrogates were telling potential candidates for his seat in the 15th Congressional District to “run at their own risk.”

Swalwell planned to dropped out of the presidential field by September, according to a source who was briefed on the exchange with one of the prospective candidates, but is not authorized to discuss the conversation.

The idea that Swalwell would exit the presidential race by September was a well-accepted rumor bandied about for months by some local Democratic Party insiders.

Among the list of early candidates mentioned as showing interested in the 15th District should Swalwell not seek re-election was former Tri-Valley Assemblymember Catharine Baker, a Republican; Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty; state Sen. Bob Wieckowski; and Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who does not live in the congressional district.

One notable candidate Swalwell’s campaign did not brief was Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab. She took Swalwell at his word that he would not seek re-election and announced her campaign for his seat on April 12, just four days after Swalwell jumped into the presidential race.

Wahab had just one conversation with Swalwell since joining the congressional race.They briefly chatted at the California Democratic Party Convention last May in San Francisco. Swalwell thanked her for refraining from making any negative public comment about him.

According to the source, Swalwell’s surrogate back in March acknowledged the campaign’s polling numbers were somewhat disappointing, but they were banking on his candidacy “catching lightning in a bottle.” That never happened.

Swalwell never exceeded more than one percent in any poll and failed to register any support in a number of surveys. Swalwell abruptly pulled the plug on his presidential campaign on July 8.

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