Welcome to Ad Watch, an occasional Civil Beat series in which we analyze campaign messages from Hawaii candidates.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign distributed a new re-election video on Wednesday. The spot clocks in at just under three minutes, and it’s exactly the kind of message we’ve come to expect from Gabbard: Poised, ambitious, and savvy.
No question, Gabbard had a busy freshman year in Congress. She’s already made a name for herself in national political circles.
But this ad doesn’t capture the fact that she’s still a relative rookie in the House. More on that in a minute.
First, have a look:
Gabbard’s taking cues from her own campaign playbook here. Her relaxed tone along with the warm lighting and chill music all call to mind some of her early campaign videos from 2012.
This time around, Gabbard is more confident in front of the camera. It makes sense. She’s had plenty of opportunities to practice since moving to Washington. The congresswoman is making a name for herself as a rising star in the Democratic party, and in turn, has become a familiar face on some of the national political shows like “Meet the Press.”
Gabbard’s message for 2014 is consistent with what she’s been communicating to her constituents in recent months. (Incidentally, much of what she says in the ad reflects her responses to a Civil Beat survey of Hawaii delegates’ New Year’s Resolutions.)
She runs down a list of her many accomplishments in Washington, and what she says checks out — but some additional context helps.
She starts the ad by talking about the first bill she introduced, which easily made its way to the president’s desk. Indeed, Gabbard’s “Helping Heroes Fly Act,” became law in August, and received unanimous bipartisan support from all the members of Congress who voted.
She also takes credit for reinstating the Native Hawaiian Education Act and adding a provision to the Farm Bill to help Hawaii’s coffee farmers. (Gabbard did this work in partnership with the rest of the Hawaii delegation, though she doesn’t mention them here. Fair enough. After all, this is an ad for her reelection campaign, not theirs.)
When considering the litany of accomplishments Gabbard claims, it’s important to put things in perspective: Gabbard introduced three bills last year, putting her in the bottom 15 percent among bill introducers in Congress, according to the congressional tracking site GovTrack. But remember: Quality matters more than quantity in lawmaking.
Another detail: The congresswoman isn’t always precise when she talks about her relationship to legislation — a pretty wonky nuance, but one that’s worth keeping in mind. For instance, she says: “I spoke out strongly against the overreach of the NSA and its data collection on innocent Americans, sponsoring legislation like the USA Freedom Act.”
Yes, Gabbard has been outspoken about her belief that the NSA’s data-collection practices are “absolutely unacceptable.” But the congresswoman didn’t technically sponsor the USA Freedom Act; she co-sponsored it. Its sponsors were Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.
What’s the difference?
Co-sponsors are invited to sign their support to legislation, whereas sponsors are a bill’s original introducers. There are routinely dozens of co-sponsors on any given bill, and lawmakers co-sponsor new bills all the time. Gabbard co-sponsored 146 bills last year. In the case of the USA Freedom Act, 57 House Republicans and 63 House Democrats signed on as co-sponsors, including Gabbard and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
Finally, Gabbard mentioned her work on the issue of military sexual assault. As the only member of the Hawaii delegation who is in the military, Gabbard has demonstrated that this is one of the issues she cares most about. She’s been front and center in public conversations about legislation aimed at improving accountability for sex crimes in the military, and her dedication to the issue came through in the ad.
Some of the other issues that get a passing shout-out toward the end of the video: The importance of a strong economy, finding jobs for people who need them, care for Hawaii’s kupuna, bringing troops home from war, upholding civil liberties, honoring and empowering veterans, and creating a sustainable future for Hawaii.
Ultimately, Gabbard is employing the same steady and humble tone that helped her campaign to victory the last time around. She’s also bringing up issues that are perennially important to Hawaii voters. Since before she got to Congress, Gabbard’s willingness to listen to the people she represents has been a hallmark of her governing style.
And, clearly, Gabbard is paying attention to what voters want to hear.