Tulsi Gabbard ends presidential campaign, backs Joe Biden

Jason Lalljee, Rebecca Morin and Jason Lalljee, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the House of Representatives and the Hawaii National Guard, has ended her presidential campaign.   

In a video message on Thursday, Gabbard said she'd be supporting former Vice President Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"After Tuesday's election, it is clear that Democratic Primary voters have chosen Vice President Joe Biden to be the person who will take on President Trump in the general election," she said. 

During her time as a candidate, Gabbard struggled to capture attention in a field that included higher-profile contenders and placed distantly in early primary states. At times she had to deal with the remnants of the 2016 election, in which she endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders and abandoned a post with the Democratic Party over concerns about its impartiality.  

Gabbard had spent much of the beginning of the year campaigning in New Hampshire, which has a notorious independent streak and where voters went to the polls on Feb 11. She finished seventh in the Granite State.

The Hawaii congresswoman went on to win two delegates on Super Tuesday in the American Samoa Democratic caucuses. Throughout the campaign she spent $5.3 million, with $2.9 million in ads on Facebook and Google, according to Advertising Analytics.

Gabbard filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton in January in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan for defamation after Clinton appeared to call Gabbard "a favorite of the Russians" last year.

In the lawsuit, Gabbard claims that Clinton made her remarks as "retribution" for the Hawaii congresswoman endorsing Sanders over Clinton in 2016. 

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Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks during the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta.

During the Thursday video message, Gabbard extended her best wishes to Sanders, his wife Jane, members of his campaign and his supporters "for the work they've done." Sanders is trailing Biden in Democratic delegates.

"I have a great appreciation for Sen. Sanders’ love for our country and the American people and his sincere desire to improve the lives of all Americans," she said.

Gabbard, who has represented Hawaii in the House since 2013, announced her presidential campaign in February 2019. She also serves as a captain in the Hawaii National Guard and was deployed in Iraq, serving in a field medical unit from 2004 to 2005. Gabbard is the first Hindu member of Congress. 

As a presidential candidate, Gabbard often highlighted her military background.

“I love our country. It's why I enlisted after 9/11, why I've served as a soldier for over 16 years, deployed twice to the Middle East, and serve in Congress now for almost seven years," Gabbard said during the July Democratic primary debate. 

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In August, Gabbard took a two-week absence from her campaign to report for active duty with the Hawaiian Army National Guard in Indonesia.

Gabbard, 38, aligned herself in the campaign with the more progressive candidates in the primary field, having supported Sanders for president in 2016. But her past also has drawn criticism from some progressives.   

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Gabbard worked for her father's organization, the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which organized to pass a measure against same-sex marriage in Hawaii and advocated for conversion therapy.

She apologized for her past views in January 2019, and again during the first Democratic primary debate later that year. 

“I recently voted for passage of the Equality Act,” she said. “I held views when I was very young that I no longer hold today. … I know that (LGBT servicemen she served with) would give their life for me and I would give my life for them.”

Gabbard’s vocal critique of the Obama administration’s handling of ISIS – critiquing President Obama for not using the term “radical Islam,” a characterization that aligned her more with Republicans – also distanced her from some Democratic goodwill. 

Gabbard throughout the campaign also tried to appeal to independent voters and Republicans who were dissatisfied with President Donald Trump.

“This isn’t about, ‘well, my party’s good and your party’s bad,’ or vice versa,” Gabbard said during a campaign event on Jan. 30 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “It goes much deeper than that – to where we’ve got to be able to really bring about the vision that our founders had for us: leading a government that is of, by and for the people.”

Gabbard in January also sued former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for defamation, after Clinton appeared to call Gabbard "a favorite of the Russians" in 2019. In the lawsuit, Gabbard claims that Clinton made her remarks as "retribution" for the Hawaii congresswoman endorsening Sen. Bernie Sanders over Clinton in 2016. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said the lawsuit was "ridiculous.”

According to Google Trends, she was the most searched candidate during both the June and July debates. But after failing to qualify for several subsequent debates, she never gained steam in national or early state polls. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2020 election: Tulsi Gabbard ends her bid for Democratic nomination