A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by Liz Marlantes.

Exit Swalwell, enter Steyer. How much does money matter?

Billionaire Tom Steyer joined the crowded Democratic 2020 presidential field just as California Rep. Eric Swalwell ended his bid. Does wealth matter?

AP Photo/Steven Senne, File
Billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer at a "Need to Impeach" town hall event in Agawam, Mass. in March 2019. Mr. Steyer announced this week that he will run for president.

Dear reader:

This week, the Democratic primary field both lost and gained a candidate. California Rep. Eric Swalwell ended his campaign, saying he would instead run for reelection to the House. And billionaire hedge fund manager and Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer, also from California, announced he was getting in.

An underlying factor behind both of those decisions: money. Campaigns need cash to operate, and with second-quarter fundraising reports due next week, the candidates who’ve raised big sums are already gleefully releasing their numbers. As The Atlantic’s Russell Berman points out , Congressman Swalwell exited before that filing, “which will likely show him collecting only a paltry sum.”

For Mr. Steyer, money’s not going to be a problem. He has donated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to Democratic candidates and organizations – including his “Need to Impeach” campaign advocating for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, which the Monitor’s Linda Feldmann wrote about last year. Mr. Steyer was also a key player in the 2018 midterm elections, pouring huge sums into get-out-the-vote operations instates like Florida.

Now, he’s pledging to put $100 million of his own fortune toward a presidential campaign (cue grumbling Democratic strategists who wish he would put that money toward down-ballot races instead).

Still, money isn’t everything. Mr. Steyer’s late entrance means he’s unlikely to make the next round of debates. More to the point, there’s little evidence that Democratic voters have been hankering for additional candidates. If anything, voters have been pleading with their party to start culling the field.

“For some Democratic voters, the presidential primary became a little ridiculous months ago, when more candidates filed to run than could fit on two debate stages,” writes The Washington Post’s David Weigel. He quotes a voter at an event for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, saying: “Are they really going to wait until the primary and then have all these people on the ballot? It’s like: Oh, my God. It’s really going to dilute and drag this out.”

Of course, in 2015 a wealthy outsider entered an already crowded presidential race relatively late in the cycle – and we all know how that turned out. But if Democrats are searching for their party’s version of Mr. Trump, frankly, they may need a bit more star power.

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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