California congressman and presidential contender Eric Swalwell was on the edge of the Democratic field in Thursday night’s presidential debate, both in polling and on the brightly lit stage in Miami. But he tried to elbow his way into the conversation regularly in an at-times raucous back-and-forth among 10 candidates, with some success.
Swalwell — at age 38 one of the youngest candidates — has made his youth and his signature issue of ending gun violence his dual calling cards, and it was those two that he pressed most with the little time he had.
“You can’t count on the people who have been in government for the last 30 years, who were around when this problem was created, to be the ones to solve it,” he said in response to the first question he received on stage. “It’s going to be the next generation.”
He also touted what he called the field’s most ambitious plan to end gun violence and school shootings — a mandatory buyback and ban for semiautomatic assault weapons, as well as more regulations on gun manufacturers and more restrictions on gun sales.
But by the debate’s end, he logged just over four minutes of speaking time — less than every other candidate save tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
He did clash notably in an early exchange with former Vice President Joe Biden, in which he recounted the appearance of a presidential candidate before California Democrats when he was 6 years old. That candidate “said it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans,” he said. “That candidate was then-Senator Joe Biden.”
“Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago,” he added. “He is still right today.”
But Biden fired back that he was “still holding onto that torch,” and that he still had an agenda worth pursuing, particularly on education, he said.
Swalwell, bearing an orange ribbon on his left lapel for Parkland victim Jaime Guttenberg during the debate, also touted his signature policy issue of ending gun violence — a message he hoped might have particular resonance near the site of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year.
Swalwell, who notes regularly that he started his campaign in Parkland, also cited the Pulse shooting in Orlando in 2016 as part of the impetus for solving America’s gun crisis — a tragedy that had gone unmentioned the prior night during a similarly heated discussion about gun control.
Others’ plans, Swalwell said, would still leave 15 million assault weapons on the streets. “They wouldn’t do a single thing to save the lives in Parkland.”
In the audience listening was Jaime Guttenberg’s father, Fred, who has become an outspoken voice for gun regulations after the shooting, as well as Parkland activist Cameron Kasky. Both attended as guests of Swalwell, the congressman said, though neither has officially endorsed him.
The mayor of Parkland, Christine Hunschofsky, did tweet shortly before the debate that she was endorsing Buttigieg as “a leader who will run toward, not away from, the toughest challenges we face today.” The mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Dean Trantalis, also endorsed Buttigieg an hour before the debate.
After the debate, Swalwell congratulated Buttigieg on Hunschofsky’s support, adding he hoped the Indiana mayor would endorse his plan “to buy back and ban the exact kinds of weapons that killed those children in Parkland.”