MANCHESTER, N.H. — Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard didn’t even wait Tuesday for the primary results to come in before boarding a plane for South Carolina to continue her presidential campaign.
In New Hampshire, the first primary in the nation, Gabbard received about 3% of the vote, finishing seventh in the field of Democrats who want to oust President Donald Trump from the White House this fall.
That ranked her behind the eventual winner, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, followed by former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Others ahead of Gabbard included Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer.
As the results rolled in and two other poorly performing candidates dropped out — entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet — Gabbard tried to strike a defiant tone with her supporters.
“No matter what happens here tonight, I want you to know that we have already been victorious,” Gabbard said.
She then noted that her campaign has been significantly outspent by her opponents, some of them billionaires, and that she’s been the victim of smear campaigns that she says aimed to silence her message.
“Our democracy belongs to us, don’t ever forget that,” Gabbard said. “No matter what the noise is on TV, no matter what the pundits tell you, no matter what people tell you you cannot do or what we cannot do as Americans, remind them and never forget that we the people determine our future.”
Gabbard declined to speak to Civil Beat after she addressed her supporters.
“Our democracy belongs to us, don’t ever forget that.” — Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard bet big on New Hampshire.
The congresswoman spent more time campaigning here than any other 2020 Democratic candidate.
She moved to the Granite State in December and logged nearly 100 days on the ground. In addition to town halls and meet and greets, she hosted events in which she skied with supporters and surfed the frigid waters of the Atlantic.
Gabbard invested more than just time here. According to Advertising Analytics data compiled by The New York Times, Gabbard spent more than $870,000 on television ads in New Hampshire.
She also spent big on billboards and other signs that she used to paper some of the state’s busiest intersections and thoroughfares.
Dante Scala, who’s a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said that if Gabbard hit 10% here it would have been “a pretty big accomplishment” given her previous poll numbers, but that it still wouldn’t have been enough to buoy her campaign.
When asked what Gabbard’s outlook is after New Hampshire, Scala gave a two-word answer: “Not good.”
“It’s hard to see where she goes from here because New Hampshire has some particular quirks that you’re not going to see in other states that you’re competing in,” Scala said. “This could be as good as it gets.”
Gabbard tried to take advantage of New Hampshire’s unique electorate, where more than 42% of registered voters are so-called “undecided,” meaning they aren’t affiliated with a single party and can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary.
She built a coalition of supporters that defies easy definition. They’re a mix of far-left progressives, libertarian-leaning independents and disenchanted Republicans, many of whom voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
Her appeal, they say, comes from her willingness to set aside partisan labels and have open dialogue, even if it’s with people she disagrees with.
She became a hero for some when she resigned from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to endorse Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
She’s continued to buck the party establishment and carve her own path, including when she filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against Clinton after she implied Gabbard was a “favorite of the Russians” and being groomed by Republicans to run as a third-party candidate.
“It’s really hard to make that case for electability if you don’t do well here.” — David Skrabel, Gabbard supporter
Gabbard also makes frequent appearances on Fox News, something she says shows her willingness to cross party lines and speak to all Americans despite their political affiliations.
The night before the primary, for instance, she went on Sean Hannity’s show to talk about her views on drug legalization, her recent call for DNC Chairman Tom Perez’s resignation and her defense of Trump’s decision to fire Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and U.S Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, two critical impeachment witnesses.
But as much time as Gabbard spent in New Hampshire she couldn’t convince enough voters of one thing — that she could beat Donald Trump.
It was top of mind for a number of New Hampshire voters, especially those who were still undecided.
Jeanette Pratt-Tello and her partner, Paula, moved to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire last year from Massachusetts after decades working as educators.
At a Warren rally on Monday, Jeanette said she still had yet to make up her mind about who to vote for. She liked some of what she heard from Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Steyer. She said she also liked what she heard from Gabbard, but not enough to vote for her.
“There are so many choices and there’s so much at stake,” Pratt-Tellos said. “I think Tulsi has a lot of great things to say, I just don’t think it’s her time yet. It really comes down to electability and who’s going to be able to kick Trump’s ass.”
Gabbard has struggled mightily in the polls. Nationally she hovers around 1.4% on average, according to Real Clear Politics. In New Hampshire she fared better, on occasion hitting as high as 6% or 7% support in a handful of surveys.
The Democratic National Committee recently changed its thresholds for qualifying for the next round of debates. Candidates could qualify if they hit 10% in four separate polls or 12% in surveys taken in Nevada or South Carolina. They could also qualify if they received at least one delegate in the early states of Iowa or New Hampshire.
Gabbard all but gave up campaigning in Iowa, where she convinced few caucus-goers to support her and won no delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
The congresswoman also lags far behind in fundraising. In 2019, Federal Election Commission records show she raised a total of $12.6 million. That’s a far cry from the $109 million in contributions to Sanders or the $28.9 million raised by Klobuchar.
David Skrabel of Portsmouth was a Sanders supporter in 2016 but switched his allegiances to Gabbard after she announced her candidacy early last year. Since then he’s been volunteering for the campaign.
The realities of Tuesday’s results weren’t lost on Skrabel.
“If she doesn’t overperform here then obviously that makes it harder because, as people like to say, Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents,” Skrabel said. “It’s really hard to make that case for electability if you don’t do well here.”
He still hopes there’s a place for Gabbard in the national conversation, particularly when it comes to ending U.S. involvement in foreign wars and taking on the military industrial complex. Even if she doesn’t win the nomination, just letting her speak would be victory enough.
“Her being up on the debate stage is still a win for us,” he said. “That means we’re still talking about getting out of Afghanistan and all the other places we have no business being in. We’ll still have someone who’s going to call bullshit on the corporatists.”
Meanwhile in South Carolina, Gabbard has a lot of ground to make up and not a lot of time to do it. The South Carolina primary is on Feb. 29, just over two weeks away.
The state looks much different than New Hampshire. Nearly one-in-three voters is a person of color in the Palmetto State, and the black vote can make or break a candidate in the Democratic primary. The electorate in New Hampshire is largely white.
Gabbard polls poorly in South Carolina. According to surveys tracked by Real Clear Politics, the congresswoman is in seventh place there with a polling average of 2.5%.
That leaves her far behind the candidates above her, such as Biden, who does well with black voters, and Steyer, who’s surged in recent polls after dumping huge sums of cash into the state.
She isn’t campaigning in Nevada, which holds a caucus on Feb. 22.
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