In October 2016, shortly before the presidential election, Eric Swalwell was meeting with staffers to discuss his upcoming term in Congress when he suggested, half-joking, that if Donald Trump won he would run against him in 2020.

Now that Swalwell is an-all-but-declared candidate for president, the challenge is getting others to take him seriously.

The 38-year-old Democratic lawmaker from a nondescript slice of the East Bay hardly stands out in the abundant 2020 field. He is neither the first nor only millennial running, not the only Californian eyeing the White House and most certainly not the only member of Congress in search of a promotion.

He does, however, have more than 450,000 Twitter followers, an omnipresence on the political cable TV circuit — where he strafes Trump on a regular basis — a paycheck-to-paycheck upbringing and nearly $100,000 in college debt. The latter two, Swalwell suggests, make him a lot like many Americans living with uncertainty and financial stress as a constant companion.

“I think I can look voters in most places in the eye and say, ‘I see you, I hear you, I am you,’ ” he offered.

Say what you will about Trump, he’s yielded a bounty of political ambition and a bushel of Democrats thinking, If that guy sits in the Oval Office….

Swalwell is one of the most audacious candidates, and not just because it requires a trip all the way back to 1880 to find the one and only sitting House member ever elected president. (The fact James Garfield was assassinated less than four months into his term should be treated as strictly coincidence.)

The motivation for a Swalwell run is entirely self-generated. There is no Beto O’Rourkian groundswell urging him into the contest, no residual Bernie-mania pushing him to try, no glass-ceiling-shattering impetus to summon him forth. Rather, there is Swalwell’s professed impatience: with the status quo, with Democratic Party elders, with the political sump hole that is Washington today.

“I see a generation that wants to do big things, that sees incrementalism, nibbling around the edges, governing crisis to crisis, budgets that are six to eight weeks at a time, and just thinking that we’re shrinking in bold leadership,” he said at a Starbucks just outside his district, a brief stop on the way home from Iowa before heading back to New Hampshire.

As president, Swalwell suggested, he could serve as “a generational bridge” between his restless peers and their more seasoned political elders. “I look at this as a big, blank whiteboard,” he said, “not wed to the solutions of the past, not counting on the same old people to solve the same old problems.”

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