Swalwell stakes campaign on gun violence

Swalwell stakes campaign on gun violence
© Greg Nash

The Democratic frontrunners in the presidential campaign, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Ted Kennedy in defending remarks about working with segregationists Biden invokes Ted Kennedy in defending remarks about working with segregationists Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Sanders denies tweet about corporate Democrats was dig at Warren Democrats asked to create ideal candidate to beat Trump pick white man: poll MORE (I-Vt.), are in their 70s. But youth must be served. At 38, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael Swalwell2020 Democrats share their families' immigration histories 2020 Democrats share their families' immigration histories 'We fight on': 2020 Democrats mark Juneteenth MORE (D-Calif.) is among the youngest Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardWarren says she's open to decriminalizing sex work Warren says she's open to decriminalizing sex work Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-Hawaii) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: Democrats view Biden as most electable, while Warren sees gains Poll: Democrats view Biden as most electable, while Warren sees gains 2020 Democrats share their families' immigration histories MORE who are both 37.

Swalwell represents the East Bay in the San Francisco and Oakland metro area but he had the good fortune to be born in Iowa which is the first state to select delegates to the Democratic National Convention. He started his career as an Alameda County prosecutor. Swalwell was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2012 when he defeated a long-term incumbent Democrat Pete Stark.

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Swalwell joins another member of the California congressional delegation, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocrats asked to create ideal candidate to beat Trump pick white man: poll Democrats asked to create ideal candidate to beat Trump pick white man: poll Biden defends remarks about segregationist senators: 'Apologize for what?' MORE in the presidential race. A new poll of likely Democratic primary voters in California shows Harris in virtual tie with Sanders and Biden in presidential preference. Swalwell is a blip at the edge of the radar screen. Swalwell, like Harris, started his career as a county prosecutor. 

Threats at home and abroad

Swalwell announced his intention to run for president on Stephen ColbertStephen Tyrone ColbertKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Key endorsements: A who's who in early states McConnell dismisses latest Jon Stewart criticism: We 'never left' 9/11 victims behind MORE’s “The Late Show.” He defined the rationale for his candidacy for Colbert and his audience when he said, “I see a country in quicksand, unable to solve problems and threats from abroad, unable to make life better for people here at home.”  The reference to quicksand suggests he will draw a distinction between the older politicians who are stuck in a rut and a young leader like him who can vigorously move the nation forward. 

Swalwell is a member of both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. So, he has the background to discuss national and international issues. He was very visible on cable TV news shows as a critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE during the Intelligence Committee hearings on collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. As a former prosecutor and a member of the Judiciary Committee, he is well qualified to speak about the need to reduce gun violence, a focus of his campaign.

Swalwell’s campaign will focus on domestic policy since it is a bigger voter priority than foreign policy. One of the great ironies about American politics is the indifference of voters toward national security issues when they select a president whose main concern will be to protect American interests abroad. Presidents focus on foreign policy because they have a free hand in that area. Congress and the courts limit the ability of presidents to make domestic policy.

Guns and money

His first appearance after his announcement was a rally near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a gunman last year. He favors universal background checks and a ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons which have been the tools of terror in so many mass shootings.

The fight to stop gun violence is a symbol for Americans of the frustration they feel about translating their passion into action in Washington. Congressional failure to enact a law that would require background checks for all gun sales illustrates voter anger at the inability of the federal government to deal with urgent national problems.

The Democratic House majority has already passed a measure to require universal background checks but the measure probably won’t even get even get a hearing in the Senate because of the opposition from Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate to vote Thursday to block Trump's Saudi arms deal MORE (R-Ky.).

Americans believe that action to limit gun violence in Washington would be effective. A national survey in February for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System indicated that four of every five Americans (82 percent) believed that universal background checks would make a difference in reducing gun violence. A majority of the public (60 percent) felt that a ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons would make a difference. 

Most Americans think that powerful special interest groups drown out the voice of the public in Washington by spending millions of dollars on campaign contributions, independent expenditures and lobbying. The National Rifle Association is the poster child for blocking the will of the public.

A campaign message is a story. Swalwell’s story is that the NRA is the villain and the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who carry on a crusade to honor the memories of the students killed there are the heroes and heroines

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Swalwell has a long and winding road to get the Democratic nomination. He starts with little national name recognition. It’s not clear if he will have the money to raise his visibility since he announced after the first quarter reporting period. He will need to overtake the candidates including Harris who have already raised millions of dollars and have organized effective campaigns.

But he is media savvy and has an issue that is very important to Democratic primary voters. At the very least, the Democratic presidential debates will give him the chance to raise the national consciousness about the need to combat the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this nation.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

This is the10th piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Mayor Pete ButtigiegSen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourkeformer Govs. Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper, former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former HUD Secretary Julian CastroSen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)