WASHINGTON — A New Hampshire poll last month gave U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard the push she’d needed to get back on the Democratic National Committee’s debate stage.
All it took was the support of eight people.
The Monmouth University Poll released on Sept. 24 showed Gabbard with 2% support from likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire.
That meant Gabbard, after missing the presidential debate September, had the required fourth poll with enough support to qualify under DNC rules.
The Monmouth University Poll, conducted from Sept. 17-21, surveyed 401 voters who said they planned to vote in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary in February 2020.
For Gabbard, that equaled roughly eight participants who said they preferred to see her win the nomination over any other candidate, including frontrunners Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
That number also helps put into perspective just how daunting a task Gabbard has in front of her.
“The bottom line here is that the difference between getting into the debates and not comes down to sampling error,” said Patrick Murray, who is the founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Gabbard’s campaign did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment for this story.
Gabbard has only hit 2% in a handful of the nearly 40 qualifying polls for September and October debates, according to data compiled by Politico. Mostly she hovers around 1% or less.
When extrapolating from the sample size of the four polls that qualified her for this month’s debate, there were only 52 or so likely voters who said they wanted Gabbard to take on President Donald Trump in 2020.
She’s by no means the only candidate skipping around the bottom of the polls, but unlike others, such as Cory Booker and Andrew Yang, she has yet to rise above 2% in any DNC qualified survey.
If she has any hope to keep debating she’ll have to grow her support and fast. The DNC upped the polling thresholds for the November contest to 3% in four or more qualifying surveys or 5% in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada.
“If you have name recognition and money, you’re a shoo-in, but if you aren’t rich or famous, you face long odds.” — Tulsi Gabbard
So far Gabbard has not hit a single survey mark, although she does appear to have passed the DNC’s grassroots fundraising threshold of 165,000 unique donors.
Murray pointed out that three of Gabbard’s four qualifying polls for the October debate came out of Iowa or New Hampshire, two states where she’s been spending a lot of time and money.
For instance, Federal Election Commission records show Gabbard’s campaign has spent more than $130,000 on billboard advertising between Jan. 1 and June 30, which is the most up to date data available.
Those billboards, Murray said, put Gabbard’s name and face in front of potential voters, and was probably enough to help get her to 2% in a handful of qualifying polls.
Murray said Tom Steyer took a similar tack when his campaign dumped nearly $7 million into advertising during the first month of his campaign, much of it targeted in early primary states. Already Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire, is well on his way to qualifying for the November debates.
“The DNC really needs to take a look at what they mean when they talk about grassroots support,” Murray said. “You can buy your way into the debates. Gabbard did it without a lot of money by selectively spending where she did.”
Still, most polling shows Gabbard is struggling to break through and meet the qualifications.
According to Real Clear Politics, which tracks and aggregates polls from across the country, including in early primary states, Gabbard has been stuck near the bottom.
Nationally, Gabbard’s poll numbers show her hovering at 1%. She does better in early primary states, but not by much. The numbers show she polls best in New Hampshire, with an average of 4%, which would place her sixth behind other candidates in the Granite State.
Even in one of her best showings, a poll conducted in early September by Emerson College, shows Gabbard hitting 6%, which at the time placed her sixth behind Joe Biden (24%), Elizabeth Warren (21%), Bernie Sanders (13%), Pete Buttigieg (11%) and Kamala Harris (8%).
Still, Gabbard presses on. She’s back on the ground in New Hampshire this week, and again lashing out at the DNC.
In an op-ed published in the New Hampshire Union Ledger, the newspaper for the state’s largest city, Manchester, Gabbard attacked the DNC’s polling qualifications, saying that due to the large margins of error in some surveys there could be candidates barred from the debate stage who in reality could be polling higher than those who made it.
“If you have name recognition and money, you’re a shoo-in, but if you aren’t rich or famous, you face long odds,” Gabbard said. “Polling this early in the race skews heavily towards recognizable names. Wealthy candidates blanket the airwaves and internet with ads, racking up clicks and likes, small donations and e-signatures, until they buy their way past the threshold to get their spot on the debate stage.”
“This isn’t democracy,” she added. “It’s a set of arbitrary rules, biased toward elites, influenced by major corporations and media, in which voters have no say.”
George Hamblen is a Democratic Party official in New Hampshire who’s invited Gabbard to come speak at events in Rockingham County.
He says she spends a lot of time in New Hampshire and that it’s hard to miss her when her face is plastered on a giant billboard posted next to a busy highway or the logo from her Tulsi Now campaign stares out from the window of a local business.
“There are certainly more Gabbard signs here than there are for anyone else,” Hamblen said. “Honestly, it goes Trump and then it goes Gabbard, but Trump people have had their signs up since 2016.”
In a state like New Hampshire, where independents can pull a primary ballot for either party, Hamblen said Gabbard and her anti-regime-change-war message presents a lot of crossover appeal, including to former Trump voters.
He noted that her ground game doesn’t have the same level of organization that one might find with a top tier candidate like Warren or Sanders, who happen to live nearby in Vermont and Massachusetts. She also doesn’t draw the same crowds as candidates such as Andrew Yang.
Hamblen said when Gabbard hosted an event at a public library the room was packed and it was standing room only. When Yang gave a talk at the same venue there were people lined up in the parking lot.
Murray, too, has encountered a number of independents and conservatives in New Hampshire and elsewhere who say they’ll support Gabbard’s presidential campaign.
He said she gives those individuals a candidate who falls outside the party norms, which allows them to maintain their “independent credentials.”
“She provides an opportunity for them to participate in this process, but the numbers are the numbers,” Murray said. “This is not a force that’s going to change the trajectory of the nomination process.”
If Gabbard does well in the debate she might have an opportunity to grow her support, although her two prior performances didn’t seem to add much of a bump.
“She has a platform later this month,” Murray said. “But it’s going to be a very crowded stage.”
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