DUBLIN, Calif. — California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell rallied supporters at his high school alma mater Sunday, describing his middle class upbringing and vowing to make gun control the central cause of his presidential campaign.

“As someone who has benefited so profoundly from the promise of America, as someone who owes this country, this city everything, I’m asking you to help me create a country that fulfills that promise for all Americans,” Swalwell declared on a sunny, blustery day at Dublin High School.

In Dublin, where Swalwell launched his political career as a City Council member less than a decade ago, he painted the picture of his middle class upbringing that couldn’t be more different from President Donald Trump’s. His resume, he told his supporters, included a paperboy route at age 9, being an umpire on local baseball fields and folding sweaters at Aeropostale at the nearby Stoneridge Mall.

“Where we lived was not Mar-a-Lago,” Swalwell said. “We lived right smack in the middle of the middle class.”

Many of the about 1,000 people who came to Swalwell’s rally — and lined up to exchange fist bumps and snap selfies with him — had been following the 38-year-old congressman’s career since the beginning.

“We’ve supported Eric ever since he’s been a congressman, and we want to see him jump to the top,” said Brenda Bigongiari, 79, who lives in Castro Valley. “He’s an everyman, and he’s upfront about his beliefs.”

The rally wrapped up Swalwell’s first week as a White House candidate. He announced his bid on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Monday night, and held campaign events in Iowa, South Carolina and near Parkland, Fla., the site of last year’s deadly high school shooting. Later this week, he’s headed to Nevada and New Hampshire.

Swalwell also focused his speech on gun control, calling his proposal to ban and buy back every assault weapon in the U.S. the most far-reaching solution to the problem offered by any presidential candidate.

“Our right to live and to love each other, those rights are greater than any other right in the Constitution, period,” he said to cheers.

He’s hoping that the focus on guns will help him stick out of the crowd of 18 Democrats running for president, many of whom are better known and have been in the race for far longer and some of whom are preaching the same themes of generational change.

Earlier Sunday, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg also officially announced his run for president with a hometown rally inside a former auto factory. Buttigieg, 37, has risen in the polls with a similar message to Swalwell’s. He drew about 6,000 people in his city of 100,000, local officials said, and his campaign said he’d taken in more than a million dollars in the hours after his announcement speech.

Swalwell acknowledged that he had a “steep” climb ahead of him, but vowed to make a mark in the race by focusing on the future.

“I come from a generation that’s used to starting from scratch and innovating,” he said. “We begin with a great idea, we build it in our garage, and we light up the world. So that’s the plan.”

His first task will be getting into the primary debates starting in June. To guarantee his place on the debate stage, Swalwell will need to rack up 65,000 individual campaign donors or get at least 1 percent support in at least three polls approved by the Democratic National Committee — and possibly more, depending on how many candidates ultimately run.

Speakers at the rally urged supporters to give “just one dollar” to help Swalwell get on the debate stage.

Also Sunday, he was endorsed by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, his former boss, as well as his congressional colleague Rep. Ruben Gallego, a progressive from Arizona, who will be his campaign chairman.

“He could be strong for a mom whose son was murdered, he could share a tear with you from Parkland who lost their friends,” said O’Malley, lauding Swalwell for his “ability to dream the future and make it happen.”

Swalwell’s candidacy is already setting off a scramble for his East Bay congressional seat, as he’s said he won’t run for president and for reelection simultaneously. Hayward council member Aisha Wahab declared her candidacy Friday, and State Sen. Bob Wieckowski is preparing an exploratory committee to run.

Even some of Swalwell’s fans are scratching their heads about why he’d run and give up his heavily Democratic seat. Katie Merrill, a Democratic strategist in the East Bay, said he would be more effective in Congress than as a long-shot presidential contender.

“The Intelligence Committee has a lot of work to do, and I wish he would stay focused on that because I think he could continue to make a huge impact,” she said. “If you have an itch to run for president as a politician, at some level you have to scratch that itch. Maybe he needs to explore this for the next eight months and then run for his House seat again.”

Swalwell is used to being a long shot. He won his first race for Congress in 2012 as a 31-year-old City Council member, defeating Pete Stark, an incumbent who’d held the seat longer than Swalwell had been alive.

Many of those who showed up at the rally Sunday had been with him since that race or before, and said they liked what they heard — even if they were still deciding their presidential preference.

Paige Rice, 27, a recent masters graduate from Danville, said Swalwell’s focus on gun control resonated with her because she had attended the University of California, Santa Barbara at the time of a 2014 mass shooting near campus.

“Even if he doesn’t become the nominee, I hope he forces other candidates to pay more attention to this,” Rice said.

“He’s the only person I hear really focusing on gun control, which is so important,” agreed Claire Chow, 66, a therapist from San Ramon. “And he doesn’t seem to have lost touch with his roots.”


Alex Landa, 69, a physicist at Livermore National Lab and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, said he liked Swalwell’s work on the investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election — and how he was “willing to say the president is compromised” while other Democrats minced words on the topic.

“He’s not afraid to take the president on,” Landa said.


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