It was the quiet, soft-spoken congresswoman from Hawaii who ended up making the biggest punch out of Wednesday night’s debate.
Tulsi Gabbard was far from a national name and sat in tenth place in the RealClearPolitics’ polling average of the race for the Democratic nomination.
But she came out of the first primary debate the winner of a popular online poll and the most-searched for candidate on Google.
Tulsi Gabbard was the most searched for candidate in Wednesday’s debate
Gabbard has a compelling personal story, including her Army service in Iraq
Gabbard, 38, spoke for 6.6 minutes Wednesday night – seventh out of the 10 candidates, according to a Washington Post tracker.
But it was enough to get her the attention of voters.
The four-term Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii was the most-searched candidate during the debate, according to Google Trends.
And, according to the participants in a poll on the popular news aggregation site The Drudge Report, she won the night.
Nearly 40 per cent of those named Gabbard the winner with Elizabeth Warren in second place at 12 per cent.
The online search result could simply be a reflection of her unknown status and a curiosity by voters to learn more about her.
But that result combined with the online poll showed Gabbard made an impact, despite a complaint from her campaign she did not get enough talking time during the 120 minute debate.
Gabbard was seen as an underdog candidate when she announced her candidacy for the 2020 presidential nomination in January.
Her candidacy got off to a rough start – at first she dithered back and forth on whether she was actually running before finally announcing her campaign.
Her campaign manager also left the job before Gabbard officially announced at her entry, amid reports of chaos in the campaign centered around the congresswoman’s inability to make a decision.
Gabbard also had to deal with several controversies – including her meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a video from when she was younger that showed her opposition to gay marriage.
In January 2017, Gabbard met with Assad, who has since been indicted for war crimes, during a trip to Syria and Lebanon.
No photo has ever emerged from the meeting of Gabbard and Assad.
‘My reason for going to visit Syria was really because of the suffering of the Syrian people that has been weighing heavily on my heart,’ Gabbard said at the time. ‘Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria. In order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him.’
Gabbard has been criticized for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017
Gabbard had to explain after a video surfaced of her opposing same-sex marriage when she was a teenager
Gabbard’s father Mike is a prominent anti-gay activist in Hawaii
She said she met with him in pursuit of peace.
And, in 2019, she said Assad was not a threat to the United States.
‘Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,’ Gabbard said.
American officials had not met with Assad after his use of chemical weapons against his own people became widely known.
At a CNN town hall in March, Gabbard refused to say whether or not Assad was a war criminal.
‘I think that the evidence needs to be gathered, and as I have said before, if there is evidence that he has committed war crimes, he should be prosecuted as such,’ she said.
Additionally, Gabbard worked for her father’s anti-gay organization in the early 2000s – a group that likened same-sex marriage to incest, pedophilia, and bestiality.
Mike Gabbard, a prominent anti-gay activist in Hawaii who now serves in the state Senate, established The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which supported gay conversion therapy and referred to homosexuality as ‘unhealthy, abnormal behavior that should not be promoted or accepted in society.’
An ad from the group resurfaced in January , featuring the Gabbard family – including a teenage Tulsi – opposing gay marriage in the late 1990s.
Gabbard, a practicing Hindu, married Abraham Williams in 2015
Gabbard won an online poll after Wednesdays first primary debate
‘Each of us has the right to marry but we don’t have the absolute right to marry anyone we want. For example, I’m not allowed to marry my daughter or my son,’ Mike Gabbard says in the video.
‘I can’t marry my sister or my brother,’ a young Tulsi Gabbard notes.
‘And I can’t marry my dog,’ chimed in another person featured in the ad.
Gabbard clarified she support for gay rights in the fallout, pointing to her legislative record on Capitol Hill.
She addressed her support for LBGTQ rights during the debate on Wednesday night.
‘Let me say that there is no one in our government at any level who has the right to tell any American who they should be allowed to love or who they should be allowed to marry,’ she said.
‘Maybe many people in this country can relate to the fact that I grew up in a socially conservative home, held views when I was very young that I no longer hold today,’ she added.
‘I’ve served with LGBTQ service members, both in training and deployed downrange. I know that they would give their life for me and I would give my life for them. It is this commitment that I’ll carry through as president of the United States,’ she argued.
Her personal story is a compelling one and she referred to it repeatedly during the debate on Wednesday night.
She repeatedly refers to her time in Army and deployment to Iraq in her campaign speeches
Gabbard joined the Army National Guard after the September 11th attacks and served time in Iraq.
She is still a member of the reserves, where she serves as a major.
She referenced her service during several answers in the debate.
‘Let’s deal with the situation where we are, where this president and his chickenhawk cabinet have led us to the brink of war with Iran,’ she said when asked about the situation in the Middle East.
‘I served in the war in Iraq at the height of the war in 2005, a war that took over 4,000 of my brothers and sisters in uniforms’ lives. The American people need to understand that this war with Iran would be far more devastating, far more costly than anything that we ever saw in Iraq,’ she added.
She called for the United States to return to the Iran nuclear agreement, which President Donald Trump withdrew the country from.
‘It wouldn’t be just contained within Iran. This would turn into a regional war. This is why it’s so important that every one of us, every single American, stand up and say no war with Iran. We need to get back into the Iran nuclear agreement, and we need to negotiate how we can improve it,’ she said.
Gabbard also pushed back when Tim Ryan called for more engagement in Afghanistan.
‘The reality of it is if the United States is not engaged, the Taliban will grow. And we will have bigger, bolder terrorist acts, we have got to have some presence there,’ Ryan said.
‘Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan?,’ she asked her Democratic rival. ‘Well, we just have to be engaged? As a soldier, I will tell you, that answer is unacceptable.’
‘We have to bring our troops home from Afghanistan,’ she added. ‘We are no better off in Afghanistan today than we were when this war began. This is why it’s so important to have a president and commander-in-chief who knows the cost of war and who’s ready to do the job on day one. I am ready to do that job when I walk into the Oval Office.’
Gabbard has served four terms as a member of Congress
Gabbard, seen here with her husband Abraham, was the first American Samoan and first Hindu elected to Congress
Tulsi Gabbard was born on American Samoa, the fourth of five children, and her family moved to Hawaii when she was two.
She is a practicing Hindu and a vegetarian. She often posts about her healthy lifestyle, which includes yoga, on her instagram account.
Her name is Sandskrit for Holy Basil, a holy plant in Hinduism.
She is married to Abraham Williams.
She was the first Samoan American and first Hindu elected to Congress.
Gabbard was seen as a rising star when she first came to Congress in 2013. She had been the youngest person ever elected to the Hawaii state house when she won a seat there at the age of 21.
But she butted heads with party leadership in the 2016 campaign, when she criticized the Democratic National Committee for its decision to only hold six primary debates.
She resigned as vice chair of the DNC so she could endorse Bernie Sanders over nominee Hillary Clinton.
In her closing remarks at the debate, she focused on offering a vision of hope for voters.
‘Our nation was founded on the principles of service above self, people who fled kings, who literally prospered on the backs and the sacrifices of people, coming here to this country, instead putting in place a government that is of, by, and for the people,’ she said.
‘But that’s not what we have. Instead, we have a government that is of, by, and for the rich and powerful. This must end. As president, our White House – our White House will be a beacon of light, providing hope and opportunity, ushering in a new century where every single person will be able to get the health care they need, where we will have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, where we will have good-paying jobs and a new green economy. Join me in ushering in this new century with peace, prosperity, opportunity, and justice for all.’