After driving around much of Iowa to attend events with Presidential candidates, it was nice to see one close to home. In fact, U. S. Representative Eric Swalwell wasn’t only going to be in Cedar Falls, he was going to be speaking at the home of some good friends of mine. So, even though it was only 1 degree out, Julie and I drove over with our daughter, Devin, wondering if people would show up for this event or just hunker down because of the cold weather. But now that it was officially the beginning of March, most Iowans had just decided to ignore bad weather and act as if Spring was on its way (though there was no sign of this alleged “Spring” coming to Iowa anytime soon).
Over the years, we’ve brought Devin to this very house many times for birthday parties or get togethers. Our friends’ house has a wonderful layout for parties, and at times they’ve even set up concerts in the open area next to their kitchen. When we arrived, still cold, the go-to spot to hang out was in front of the fireplace. The chilly among us congregated there.
House party events are not like rallies. There is no big entrance by the candidate, and there is much better food and drink provided. Rep. Swalwell just made his way in and stood by the kitchen counter in one of the conversation clusters. It was like many parties I had been to at this very house where I got to catch up with friends, except this one had a Presidential candidate at it.
If you watch MSNBC, Eric Swalwell is a regular guest, and I didn’t think twice about engaging him in conversation when he started working the room (I’ve learned that there is a word for feeling like you actually know someone you’ve only seen on television: parasocial). This may be the first candidate I’ve met who is younger than me, but I had better get used to that. He was glad to chat about the caucus process and said he was originally from Sac City, Iowa (he’s now in California), and I got to tell him that Sac City has the best nickname ever, “Bag Town.”
Eventually, he took the “stage,” which was really just the sweet spot in front of the fireplace, and started speaking. He noted that he had graduated school with almost $100,000 in debt, which spoke to the concerns in the room of both the millennials in the room and many of the people who work with me at the University of Northern Iowa and want solutions to the student debt crisis.
One thing that stood out in his stump speech was that he foregrounded his support for gun safety legislation, noting that he supported a plan to buyback and ban 15 million assault weapons. His catchphrase was “go big, be bold, do good,” and he supports both the Green New Deal and Medicare For All. Other highlights included details from his time as a prosecutor, his support for a journalist protection act, and an argument for a southern border policy not driven by hyped-up “scareavans.”
In the Q&A, I got to ask him about the politics of making Medicare For All a reality. He remembered my name from earlier (which I thought was a pretty neat trick), and noted that M4A already is supported by over 50% of the population. The whole event wasn’t as long as a rally, and there was a lot more time for casual chatting. Devin and her friends were able to speak with him for a while, and also found Swalwell easy to talk to, though she wasn’t as sure about what to make about the quaffed photographer who kept angling for pictures (earning him the moniker “Ken doll from the 80s”).
The distinctive feature of this event, which truly made it a house party, was that toddlers would occasionally run screaming into the room. This was not a surprise to anyone and we all informally agreed to pause our speaking and listening until they moved on. At one point, this devolved into a chase scene where one of the toddlers was wearing his winter jacket backwards. This was a sign that it was time to leave before anyone got hurt.
As a U.S. House member, Eric Swalwell has a higher mountain to climb to compete with better-known candidates, but this is how such a journey has to begin, with one conversation and one house party at a time, pausing when the toddlers take over.