Tulsi Gabbard brought her anti-establishment, foreign policy-focused presidential campaign to Portland on Saturday, one of two events she had planned in Maine this weekend ahead of the state’s March 3 primary.
The long-shot Democratic contender gave an abbreviated stump speech and then took questions for about an hour inside a lecture hall at the University of Southern Maine. The military veteran talked most about the need for the U.S. to scale back its military intervention overseas.
“We’ve spent $4 billion in Afghanistan alone to prop up a corrupt government,” she told an audience of about 150 people. “Imagine what we could do with that money here.”
Gabbard, a native of Hawaii, is serving her fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. There have not been any public polls of Maine voters’ preferences in the Democratic presidential primary, but national polls show her with less than 2 percent support. She finished seventh in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday with 3.3 percent of the votes.
In an interview with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram prior to her appearance Saturday evening, Gabbard said she still believes she’s the best candidate to defeat President Trump in November and “to begin to heal the divides and bring our country together.”
Still, Gabbard’s message was not overtly anti-Trump, and she made a point of asking the audience about their party affiliation. The biggest group was unenrolled.
One of the questions she was asked was about how she might build a strong coalition in a sharply divided country. She said she’s already gotten criticism from some within her party for telling them when they’re wrong.
“Those interested most in preserving party power, yeah, that’s not what I’m about,” she said, adding that Democratic candidates can’t label Trump supporters as “racists and bigots” and then try to appeal to a broad coalition of voters.
She also talked about her frustration in working on legislation with Republican colleagues and being told by some Democrats that they didn’t want to do anything that might “give Trump a win.”
At 38, Gabbard is the second-youngest Democratic candidate behind Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. She’s a major in the Hawaii National Guard and was deployed to Kuwait in 2008-09 as a U.S. Army military police platoon leader.
Her willingness to call out her own party has earned her fans within the Republican Party, and she’s been friendly with conservative media organizations, including Fox News and Breitbart, that other Democrats avoid.
Earlier this month, Gabbard sued former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for defamation after Clinton branded her a “Russian asset” in an October 2019 podcast interview. Clinton did not name Gabbard but claimed a female Democratic candidate was favored by the Russians and possibly being groomed as a third-party candidate.
Nick Murray, 29, of Cornish was among those who came to hear Gabbard speak. He said he’s not a Democrat but believes she’s talking about things that no other candidate is, specifically her support for limited military intervention.
“She has principled stances that don’t always fit into the established narrative,” he said.
Gabbard will host another town hall at 5 p.m. Sunday at Maple Hill Farm in Hallowell.
She’ll be one of 12 Democrats on the ballot in Maine on March 3, including two candidates who have withdrawn from the race, Cory Booker and Marianne Williamson.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., won the Democratic presidential caucus in Maine in 2016. This year, Maine will switch to a primary, which will be held on Super Tuesday with 13 other states, including delegate-rich California and Texas.
Gabbard endorsed Sanders in 2016, in part because of his anti-establishment message. This cycle, she has been critical of the nominating process but said in the interview she believes the Democratic Party will unite behind the eventual nominee.
“Will voters have faith that this process will work for them? I think it’s certainly gotten off to a bad start,” she said, referring to the problems during the Iowa caucuses. “I think it matters to look at which candidate will be best positioned to beat Trump. I’ve said why I believe I’m the best candidate to do so.”
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