DUBUQUE, Iowa — Eric Swalwell appears on cable TV a lot — enough that people in Dubuque cafes recognize him and rib him about it. The Iowa-born California congressman is trying to use his TV notoriety in a bid for president. But in a field of 21 Democrats, he’s learning that being a cable news darling isn’t enough. He's currently polling at just 1%.
So why is he running and how does he stand out?
VICE News spent 48 hours with Swalwell in Iowa, where he’s trying to prove he can appeal to a broad demographic, beyond the MSNBC audience that regularly hears him condemning President Trump. He’s the son of a sheriff, but he's making gun control and reform his signature issue, even hosting one of his campaign launch events in Parkland, Florida.
At a Friday house party in Bellevue, half an hour from Dubuque, Swalwell told a gathering of the Jackson County Democrats about his experience in Congress trying to work on the divisive issue.
"I came to Congress right after Sandy Hook [the 2012 elementary school shooting] happened,” he said. "I had hoped that I could be a part of a Congress that would actually do something about what had happened. Nothing."
But as he campaigns, Swalwell is also trying to assure voters that his coastal progressive views don’t blind him to the needs of Trump voters. Swalwell says that his life experiences — born in Iowa, educated in the south, and representing a diverse district in California — gives him credibility with all voters.
When asked by VICE News why he’s running in such a crowded field, Swalwell more or less described a fading American dream as his motivation.
"I see a lot of people who work really hard just like my parents did but they don't see it adding up to what it added up to for my parents, which was their son was the first in the family to go to college. Instead, they're just running in place. They’re living paycheck to paycheck. They see a Washington in gridlock and not doing anything about it.”
Jose Ibarra, a city councilman in Storm Lake, Iowa, hosted Swalwell for a “fight night” party at his parents’ house on Saturday evening. Swalwell arrived with a case of beer and tucked into tacos and chips before making his case to a small — but more diverse group than is typical — about why they should support him for president.
Ibarra said he thinks any Democrat has a chance right now of beating Trump — including Swalwell.
"They know how to communicate with people. They know what's wrong with the country," Ibarra told VICE News in the backyard. "They know that we're divided. Donald Trump has really done nothing for them, for the small guys. So I believe that if any Democrat can connect with the 99 percent and make it into a point that he's going to bring the country back together, I think that anybody can beat Donald Trump."
This segment originally aired May 10, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.