The field for Democrats has significantly narrowed over the past month, going from almost two dozen candidates in the beginning of the race to just three: former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and a name that has, at times, been left out: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Gabbard, despite failing to come in first place in any presidential primary in the country, has stressed she’s staying in the race. She is facing an uphill battle to get to the 1,991 delegates needed to secure a nomination for the first Democratic convention ballot.
When asked by ABC News why she’s continuing her bid, Gabbard said this campaign is “an opportunity to speak to Americans every single day about the sea change we need in our foreign policy.”
On the campaign trail she has talked at length about the cost of war, also noting the physical and financial toll of war.
“In Afghanistan right now, we’re spending $4 billion of your taxpayer dollars every month,” Gabbard said. “This money could be used here.”
The Hawaii lawmaker told ABC News that in order to have a successful implementation of any of her competitors domestic policy proposals, they would have to “depend upon an end to military interventionism and the new cold war and nuclear arms race – all of which will waste trillions of dollars.”
She said at the core of her campaign is the message that “successful domestic policy is inseparably linked to a successful foreign policy.”
At the height of the 2020 Democratic Party primary, Gabbard was one of six women vying to be the Democratic nominee for president. And with the departure of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren from the race this week, Gabbard is the last woman, person of color, veteran and millennial in the race.
Oklahoma State University Professor Farida Jalalzai has written about women presidents across the globe and notes Gabbard’s candidacy faced several challenges.
“You could maybe say that there are certain issues that perhaps she prioritizes more than others that haven’t gained as much traction, for example,” she said. “And of course, you also point to the big things, like she doesn’t have. She doesn’t have much in the way of fundraising.”
When compared to many of her competitors, Gabbard has been able to sustain her bid for president on a lean campaign.
According to ABC News analysis, the campaign has raised only $11.1 million since launching in January 2019. And by the end of the month, her campaign had $2 million cash on hand.
“A lot of other candidates who have outraised and outspent us by multiple times have not been able to stay in the race,” Gabbard told ABC News. “I have been very fiscally responsible with the dollars that people are contributing to our campaign to maximize their effect and being able to get our message out to voters in the early states and across the country.”
Her campaign is fueled by a small team of staffers, volunteers, friends and family members. She flies commercial to cut down costs, renting at times affordable hotel rooms and Airbnbs to save as much money as possible.
She told ABC News, “It is the power of our volunteers the power of individuals who are recognizing the need to bring about this kind of change in our leadership where we have a government of by and for the people that makes it possible for us to continue this mission.”
The highest primary finish she’s had to date was in American Samoa, where she placed second behind former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire with seven paid staffers on the territory, who has since ended his bid for presidency.
Gabbard, 38, hails from a long line of Samoans, born at LBJ Hospital in the village of Faga’alu.
Her grandmother Aknesis Agnes “Pako” Yandall Gabbard was known for her pineapple pie and cakes sold at the Gabbard family bakery in Leloaloa.
“It was especially meaningful to my family and me to receive such strong support from voters in my place of birth,” she told ABC News following her win.
And unlike several of the past 2020 candidates, Gabbard says she hasn’t spoken to Biden or Sanders.
When asked what it means to pick up delegates — thus becoming the second woman of color ever to do so — she said gender shouldn’t matter.
“To be honest, I’ve never believed that someone should vote for or against a candidate because of their gender, race or religion and so on,” she said. “I feel strongly that we should vote for the candidate that best represents our values and who’s best prepared, who cares about the American people, who is motivated by a sincere desire to be of service to our people and our country.”
She added that the president should be someone “prepared to be the commander-in-chief, and who will unite the American people.”
Jalalzai noted that Gabbard “also gets scrutinized a lot, you know, and in part this question of, well, why are you in the race? Is a really telling one.”
She said Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris — who left the race in early December 2019 — both had attractive resumes, but were also viewed as unelectable after the loss of the first woman to be on the top of the ticket for either party, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It is a challenge New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who before Gabbard, was the last woman of color to ever win a delegate as a presidential nominee in the Democratic Party — said she also faced.
Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress — arrived at the Democratic National Committee Convention in Miami, Florida “unbought and unbossed” with less than three dozen delegates. She ran a campaign that was underfunded and had little support, having failed to secure the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which she was a co-founder, or the National Organization for Women, in a year where they wielded influence on the Democratic Party platform.
Chisholm was largely fighting an uphill battle alone as the Watergate scandal loomed in the backdrop of the convention. And while Chisholm said she ran to win, that doesn’t mean she expected to win, experts said.
University of Kentucky Professor Anastasia C. Curwood, who is writing a book about Chisholm, said the former congresswoman “wanted to be a figure who would lead to change.”
“She knew that it was extremely unlikely that she would be the one to win. But, but what she wanted was to start the process,” Curwood told ABC News.
While in many ways Chisholm’s political ideology and challenges are different from Gabbard, they both could have an impact by helping shape the outlook of future politicians through the idea of surrogate representation, Jalalzai said.
Surrogate representation is a way that politicians represent more than just people in their particular district,”as a member of a visible minority group, you are able to communicate messages about that group beyond your own district lines.”