Just six months after she won a Honolulu City Council election, Tulsi Gabbard is running for Congress.

If she wins, her departure from the City Council will lead to a special election that, based on recent history, would likely cost taxpayers around $170,000.

Late Wednesday night, Gabbard announced her plans to run for the seat Congresswoman Mazie Hirono is vacating. Hirono is running for Sen. Daniel Akaka’s post.

Gabbard doesn’t have to resign to run, so if she loses, she can continue to serve on the council for the remainder of her four-year term, and possibly another four-year term after that.

So the big question: Why now?

“When Mazie announced, all of these things that I am passionate about — and I believe that I can make a difference — really came to the surface,” Gabbard said. “I believe that I can bring some unique skills to the table. I really believe this is the best way I can continue to serve Hawaii.”

Gabbard believes her experience with the Hawaii Army National Guard — she’s been deployed to the Middle East twice in recent years — equips her to make key decisions about how the U.S. should handle current conflicts. But she’s not yet ready to articulate her positions on the military’s direction.

“Because I’ve been there, I have some strong opinions,” Gabbard said. “I’ll look forward to really having in depth conversations. That issue, specifically, is very important. Also talking about the economy. Obviously those two are connected.”

Gabbard also defers when asked to explain her position on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. For now, she says, her campaign is just getting started.

It’s so early, she says, that the question of how much money she has raised is “moot.” But Gabbard does have specific fundraising targets in mind.

“I imagine that this race, looking at others like (Congresswoman) Colleen Hanabusa’s race, they’ve been over a million dollars,” she said.

Gabbard acknowledges that’s a daunting figure, but she dismisses the idea that her focus on campaigning will detract in any way from her duties as a City Council member.

“I’m not going to let go of those responsibilities so I can campaign,” Gabbard said. “I will continue doing my job, and doing my job to the best of my ability…I’ve always made the commitment — and I’ve told my staff this as well — to serve the people of Hawaii. If someone calls me up from Makiki or the North Shore or Kalihi or Waianae, if they’re calling and asking for help, we’re there to be of service. That’s where my heart is. That’ where my passion is.”

It’s in that spirit that Gabbard says she aims to represent the 2nd Congressional District. Though she doesn’t live in the district, she points out that she has during different periods of her life, and says she understands the needs of the people who live there.

“When you’re looking at the federal level, what I’m finding is that the concerns people have are the same,” Gabbard said. “People are concerned about opportunities for jobs, people are concerned about education for our kids, people are concerned about our troops being overseas. My heart is in serving the people of Hawaii. What’s happening in the world today requires strong leadership. I believe at this time, right now, I’m uniquely well-equipped to bring some leadership and represent Hawaii well in Congress.”

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