After Upset Win, House Freshman Looks To Make A Name For Himself
by Aarti Shahani
January 03, 2013
A 32-year-old Bay Area prosecutor will be sworn in to Congress on Thursday after ousting a 40-year incumbent.
Democrat Eric Swalwell — who will be the second-youngest member of
Congress — capitalized on his opponent's gaffes and used old-fashioned
door-knocking and high-tech mobile phone outreach to win votes.
first challenge in Washington might be getting people to pronounce his
name correctly. Even senior members of California's congressional
delegation have gotten it wrong, saying "Stallwell" instead of
"It takes everyone time," he says.
has lived in Washington, D.C., once before, as a summer intern. The job
was unpaid, so he worked mornings at a gym and evenings at a Tex-Mex
"Many times members of Congress would come in and,
you know, I would give them their meals," Swalwell says. "And I tried to
memorize their faces in the congressional facebook, which was a kind of
printed directory that they used to hand out."
planning to run for Congress. He was on a weekend vacation in Maryland
with two childhood friends and made an appointment with Rep. Pete Stark,
D-Calif., to talk local business. At the last minute, Stark changed
what was supposed to be a face-to-face meeting into a quick phone date.
episode disappointed Swalwell and led him to view the 81-year-old
incumbent as someone who had served honorably in the past but who "I
just didn't see as being up for it anymore."
Swalwell made a
spur-of-the-moment decision to run against Stark for the House seat.
Everyone from Democratic Party gatekeepers to his own parents told him
he was throwing away his career.
He says they told him: "This is
the biggest mistake, you know, of your life because you're going to
lose. And ... anything you want to do in the future, you can just write
that off. You know, it's not going to happen."
Richard Schlackman, a political consultant in San Francisco, says he didn't think Swalwell "had a chance in the world."
"Incumbent Democrats don't usually lose in the Bay Area," Schlackman says.
says Stark, the incumbent, helped Swalwell build name recognition by
refusing to debate him and falsely accusing him of taking bribes.
Stark was doing a great campaign against himself," Schlackman says,
"and it's a classic example, more importantly, of a candidate who hasn't
had a real race in years."
Because California has open
primaries, the top two vote-getters face off in the general election. In
the showdown between the two Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other
big names endorsed incumbent Stark, as is the custom. Swalwell relied
on local politicians and local money for support, yet he won by a
comfortable margin of about 4.5 percentage points.
whose hometown is Dublin, Calif., plans to live in his district four
days a week, to stay in touch with his constituency. And he wants to
secure federal research money for his district's largest employer, the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
He says it needs that
money "because too often, the capital is so great that no private
organization or startup is going to be able to make those types of
Senior lawmakers say it'll be hard for the
freshman Swalwell to raise cash — perhaps just a little bit harder than
getting Capitol Hill to say his name righ
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