PHOTO BY DEREK KOUYOUMJIAN
Despite the loud and dedicated followers who have flanked her around the Granite State all week, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is by all accounts at the back of the pack in a crowded primary field. Tuesday’s election may be her last chance to stay alive politically.
Gabbard has represented Hawaii in Congress since 2013, and spent three years as the vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee through 2016. She resigned that year so she could endorse Bernie Sanders.
Gabbard had $2.7 million coming into the new year, according to her campaign’s FEC filing, and she appears to be putting that money to use.
As of Friday night, the Gabbard campaign had spent nearly $500,000 dollars on ad buys on WMUR in the last week. She also has a billboard presence in the region, including the largest advertisement outside of SNHU’s McIntyre Shaheen 100 Club Dinner on Saturday night, giving her visibility among thousands of active Democratic voters. (Inside the venue, while other Democratic candidates gave away pins, hats, shirts, and even autobiographies, the volunteer at Gabbard’s tables meekly said the buttons cost $3.)
Going into Tuesday’s primary, Gabbard was polling at only 2-3%, and was ranked between Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer.
Gabbard was shut out of CNN’s series of Town Hall forums last week, and she failed to qualify for ABC’s debate on Friday.
At SNHU on Saturday, she was invited to speak, but was slated last, leaving her to give a half-hearted speech while people cleared out of the place.
“My promise to you is to bring a soldier’s values into the White House,” she told a dwindling crowd comprised of her backers and the arena’s cleaning crew.
Before the dinner started, there was a small contingent of Gabbard supporters outside of the arena.
A backer from New York who said her name is Grace told us that she was canvassing for Gabbard because she supports the former vet’s pledge to end foreign intervention and ongoing wars.
“We should be a self-confident country, but not have an ego trip of a Mao,” she said.
Grace added that she thought Gabbard would be a good candidate to unite the Democratic party, despite the DNC establishment’s unwillingness to embrace her.
Almost on cue, a random lady walked by and interjected, “Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset,” parroting an attack from presidential also-ran Hillary Clinton.
Grace said she’s reluctant to pick another candidate she might support if Gabbard drops out, before immediately mentioning that she liked Yang and Sanders for their foreign policy positions.
Gabbard spoke again the following day to a crowd of about 150 at the Portsmouth Country Club in Greenland. Out of the gate, she focused on her intention to pull US troops out of foreign conflicts and contrasted herself from rivals who have not been open to a blanket anti-war foreign policy.
“I was alarmed by some of the answers from the other candidates at the debates the other night,” she said. “I will end those wasteful regime change wars.”
Aside from noting that reducing expenditures for foreign war would free up money to support domestic programs, Gabbard did not stray from her anti-war message until she took questions from the audience on climate change, guns, and opioids.
She dodged a question about whether she would accept the vice-president position on a Sanders ticket, and also one about if she would join a third party if one ever became viable.
Before she has the chance to challenge Donald Trump, Gabbard said, her attention would all be on Tuesday’s primary, after which she plans to “immediately catch a plane to South Carolina.”
It took a nine-year-old to ask the question about electability directly.
“Do you have a good shot at winning the president?” he asked.
“Well, do you support me?” Gabbard countered.
“I don’t know,” the boy responded.
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.
Zack is a veteran reporter. He writes for DigBoston and VICE, and formerly reported for the Boston Courant and Bulletin Newspapers.