In April 2019, on a bright Sunday afternoon in Dublin, Rep. Eric Swalwell kicked off his campaign for president. Swalwell trotted out his mouthful of a campaign slogan to great cheers from his supporters. Yet no matter how hard he tried, Swalwell’s presidential campaign was an unqualified disappointment. He often registered zero percent support in the polls. But Swalwell had never been one to quit. His upset victory in 2012 over long-time progressive lion Pete Stark was also a longshot gamble that ultimate paid off.
Yet almost three months to the day, Swalwell gathered the Bay Area press to a union hall in Dublin to announce he was dropping out of the race. His campaign was over seemingly before it ever got started.
His abrupt departure, however, raised eyebrows among East Bay insiders. Swalwell’s campaign had never received much traction in the polls. He was always at zero or one percent support. It couldn’t get any worse, some remarked. In addition there had always been great speculation that Swalwell’s presidential campaign was merely about raising his national profile. So why drop out now when there remained a possibility he could get valuable national face-time later in 2019?
Another possibility for Swalwell’s early departure was fear that progressive Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab could pose a significant risk to Swalwell’s re-election to Congress in the event he continued his presidential campaign.
Swalwell had raised uncertainty over whether he would run concurrently for president and his 15th District seat during the 2020 March primary. It was unclear whether Swalwell could legally run for both and his ambiguous comments about his intentions scared off potential candidates. “Run at your own risk,” Swalwell later remarked. But Wahab was undeterred and opened a campaign committee for the 15th congressional district. Her intention, though, was to run for an open seat.
Meanwhile, some pegged Swalwell dropping out of the presidential race as a signal that he viewed Wahab’s candidacy as a threat to his congressional seat. Rumors floated around the East Bay that Swalwell’s internal polling showed Wahab had better-than-expected support in the district.
It’s plausible Swalwell’s decision to dropout was based on several factors, including plodding polls numbers, and genuine concern about Wahab’s candidacy, but another possibility has emerged
Monday’s report and subsequent articles raise another theory about why Swalwell cut short his nascent run for president. He may have been concerned about the Chinese spy story getting out. According to Axios and Swalwell, reporters began their investigation in June 2019, just prior to the time he ended his presidential campaign.