Sticking out of snow banks in front lawns and at forks in the road, the Hawaii congresswoman’s face is everywhere on signs and banners. Her kind smile looms above streets on billboards in Manchester and across the state.
It’s a strange sight for anyone who tunes in regularly to CNN and MSNBC, or gets most of their updates on the race from national media, where the drama in the state is framed between Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, alongside a handful of others.
In those media conversations, Ms Gabbard is barely an afterthought. She has been maligned by attacks from the former nominee for the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, who attacked her unorthodox foreign policy positions as apparent proof of allegiance to Russia, not the US, in what Gabbard supporters in turn point to as proof of an overly muscular military industrial complex in America, which has engaged in nearly two decades of war in the Middle East.
And it is that issue exactly that brought out over 100 voters and volunteers to a veterans hall in eastern New Hampshire in the middle of a snow storm, just days before the election and just as other Democrats were participating in a nationally televised debate that Gabbard was not invited to.
“I think they’re attacking her because she’s too progressive,” said Jay Mitchell, a retired veteran and member of the branch of the Veterans for Foreign Wars (VFW) in Sommersworth, New Hampshire. “But in my mind, it’s not. It’s what’s needed.”
Gabbard has been a pariah in the Democratic Party since at least 2016, when she resigned from her position with the Democratic National Committee amid a heated primary campaign between Clinton and Sanders, in order to endorse the Vermont senator that year.
And in 2020, the 38-year-old military veteran has been campaigning on a message that sounds strikingly similar to Sanders at times, with a focus on ending needless foreign wars and putting an end to America’s long history of regime change conflicts across the globe.
On Friday, Gabbard approached the VFW hall quietly as she was being introduced, before patting Mitchell on the back. The two exchanged a few words and smiles, before she took the stage.
And, as a candidate who has been attacked mercilessly by members of her own party, she preached unity.
“People ask me every day, how do we heal the divide in this country?” said the Hawaii congresswoman, who is among just a handful of 2020 Democrats who have shown a willingness to go on Fox News — which just days later drew her into some trouble after she defended Donald Trump on Hannity for firing members of his administration who testified against him during his impeachment trial.
Tulsi Gabbard has focused her campaign on New Hampshire, even moving to the state after renting a property there (AP)
She recognised that division has consequences, and said all of the partisan bickering has no upside for the American people: “The idea of the American people actually being the ones who are winning is lost in the process,” she said.
As of election day in New Hampshire, Gabbard has already announced events in the next states that will vote in this year’s primary, but the Granite State still marks an incredibly important inflection point for her campaign and that of others.
The state is known for its tendency to surprise. And, Gabbard may be banking on that as voters head to the polls. She has made the state a major focus of her campaign, having basically moved there after renting a home.
Forcing her name into the national conversation is a long-shot, but perhaps not impossible. While she trails candidates like Sanders, recent polls have shown her hovering around 4 or 5 per cent of the vote. And, in a state where some 40 per cent of voters are registered independents who are able to choose which primary to vote in, appealing to Republican-leaning individuals who watch Fox News could tilt things a little bit in her favour.
Ozzy Parker, a 54-year-old legal consultant and independent from Dover, New Hampshire, said that he’s “intrigued” by the congresswoman, as he waited for her speech. Joe Biden, he said, seemed like he was going to tank in the state. But, Parker — who heavily implied he voted for Trump or a third party in 2016, but did not confirm either way — said that one thing that brought him out was the very attacks on her. Why would they bother with such a long-shot candidate, he wondered?
“She’s not on the outrageously progressive side of free everything. She seems practical and realistic,” he said.
Parker said that he actually liked that she was right there in front of him instead of getting ready for a nationally televised debate. New Hampshire-ites are used to that, he said. And he thinks she has been working hard.
“In New Hampshire, you get to touch, feel and see,” he said of the candidates. “And she’s been working very hard. In New Hampshire you have to do that.”