U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell's early exit from the 2020 presidential field offered a not-so-subtle hint to other bottom-dwellers in the polls Democratic candidates — leave (very) soon while you can still do so gracefully and on your own terms.
But other Democratic White House hopefuls don't seem eager to follow the California congressman's July 8 departure, at least in the near future.
Some want to see if they can make it onstage for the next round of primary debates in Detroit on July 30 and 31. Others see a fluid race in which frontrunner Joe Biden, the former vice president, faces vigorous challenges from the likes of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, among others.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, toiling in the low single-digits, told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday night he felt "really good" about his electoral chances of capturing the Democratic nomination and the right to challenge President Trump in fall 2020.
Bennet noted that his campaign launched in May, later than many rivals, due to a cancer scare. Bennet touted that he was still able to raise $3.5 million for the second quarter, connect with voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and perform well during the opening debates.
"If history is any guide, the leaders today are not going to be the people we nominate," Bennet said after a signing in Washington for his new book, The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring American in an Age of Broken Politics.
"I think I'm going to be in this through the early states, and I intend to do well in those states. This is one step in front of the other, and it really is a marathon not a sprint," said the former Denver public schools superintendent. "I got in a little bit later than other people, so it's not surprising that my name recognition isn't what some other people's are. I think that at this time in the race, Barack Obama wasn't yet 30 points behind Hillary Clinton. He had to wait until this coming November to be that far behind, so we'll see."
Contenders even further behind in the Democratic pack offered similar responses to questions about their viability, including Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton.
"The decision of one candidate does not impact our thought process — Seth is still running to win," said a spokesman for Moulton's presidential campaign, Matt Corridoni, in an email.
And the operation of former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, one of the newer Democratic entrants, dismissed the notion that the retired three-star Navy admiral should leave the contest like Swalwell.
"Admiral Sestak just got in. When I asked him just now what he thought about viability, he said getting into this campaign is like deciding to use our military: you’d better know how it’s going to end before deciding if it’s wise to begin," said spokesman Evan O'Connell.
Of course, Swalwell made similar statements about staying in the race for the long haul until shortly before bowing out.
The July 30-31 debates, followed by the next rounds on Sept. 12-13 with even tougher qualifying criteria, will be defining moments for many hopefuls. Meaning several are unlikely to make it through the end of summer, on Sept. 23.
"I’d say a ‘rush to the exits’ would be overstating it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slow stroll to the exits for candidates that get multiple pieces of bad news: shut out of debates, poor poll showings, poor fundraising numbers, little media coverage, and so on. By Labor Day I wouldn’t be surprised to see additional winnowing," Middlebury College political science professor Bert Johnson told the Washington Examiner.
Prospects who face being excluded from July's debate stage and may have to grapple with Swalwell's choice, include Moulton; Sestak; Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam; and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who are yet to meet the fundraising and polling thresholds ahead of the July 16 deadline.
Other threatened candidates are those polling at only 1% support nationwide: Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan are performing only slightly better at a touch more than 1%.
Hickenlooper has said he, too, is staying in the race despite recent setbacks, including a Politico headline that said his campaign was "in shambles."
So far, the only contender who seems rattled by Swalwell is Cory Booker, who this week fundraised off of the development. "It’s so important to reach voters whenever we can on a level playing field. A big part of that is making sure our message is heard on every debate stage," the New Jersey senator wrote in an email.
Barry Burden, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Elections Research Center, predicted many of the hopefuls would be stubborn and persist because "the race appears to be in flux."
"After watching Trump's electoral success in 2015 and 2016, candidates with less traditional backgrounds are also likely to be more motivated to stick it out. If Trump was able to dominate the large field of Republicans despite running a highly unconventional campaign, a Democrat might be able to do the same," Burden said.
Swalwell this week described the choice as "a personal decision" and called the new DNC criteria "fair," saying it was "the best way to narrow the field."
Swalwell's move wasn't unexpected, Republican strategist Brad Todd opined.
"I think Swalwell was the least serious person in the race and that’s saying something in a field that includes Marianne Williamson," Todd said of the self-help guru. "The race to the exits in this contest is a race to the exit of sanity. They are all trying to say the craziest thing they can say. Eventually some of them — perhaps Delaney — will be unwilling to keep saying crazy stuff."