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Why Eric Swalwell’s Campaign Failed

Eric Swalwell, we hardly knew ye. The Democrat announced on Monday that he was dropping out of the presidential race to instead focus on his duties as the U.S. representative of California’s 15th District.

Altogether, Swalwell’s White House bid lasted about three months. (He formally launched his bid in early April.) And his departure marks the first of what will surely be a lengthy series of presidential campaign obituaries from FiveThirtyEight. After all, only one Democrat can win the nomination, and more than 20 major candidates are in the race. But to prime you for what’s to come, in each installment of this series, we’ll discuss why the candidate’s campaign failed and what that means for the candidates still running.

For Swalwell, his decision to drop out is fairly straightforward. He never polled above 1 percent in a state or national survey and, as a result, was in real danger of missing the second Democratic debate in late July. As I wrote last week, Swalwell was currently the odd man out thanks to the Democratic National Committee’s tie-breaker rules, which edged Montana Gov. Steve Bullock ahead of him. This could have changed in the next few weeks with the release of a new qualifying poll, but his campaign wasn’t willing to wait. In the press release announcing his withdrawal from the race, it said that he no longer saw a path forward to the nomination after the first debate, as “our polling and fundraising numbers weren’t what we had hoped for.” (We don’t yet know how Swalwell performed on the fundraising front — second-quarter reports are due on July 15 — but we do know that he didn’t have 65,000 individual donors, one of the thresholds for qualification for both the first and second debates.)

Another reason he may have dropped out early: Swalwell is already facing a Democratic challenger for his House seat. The congressman had previously said he wouldn’t run for both president and Congress at the same time, and he still had plenty of time to decide if he would seek reelection to Congress. (California’s candidate filing deadline is Dec. 6.) But had Swalwell continued his long-shot presidential bid, he might have endangered his chances of retaining his House seat. His congressional opponents could have campaigned at home in California while he was off trying to make inroads in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. But now Swalwell can turn to defending his spot in Congress, from which he could still launch a future bid for higher office, if he wants.

It’s hard to know what this means for the other Democrats in the race, as Swalwell was such a lesser-known candidate, other than now there’s less competition for those also polling around 1 percent (and good news for Bullock’s chances of making the next debate). But regardless of what happens with his reelection bid, Swalwell will go down in the history books as one of the first Democratic candidates to drop out of the presidential race. And that might be better than no mention at all.

From ABC News:

Rep. Eric Swalwell drops out of 2020 presidential race

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.