Many people might be surprised to learn that Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was still running for president; indeed, she stuck around far longer than it probably made sense to. After Tuesday’s primaries, she was mathematically eliminated, as there weren’t enough pledged delegates left for her to win the Democratic nomination. But on Thursday morning, she finally called it quits.
Gabbard entered the race in January 2019 with an intriguing profile: a woman of color, a military veteran, a millennial who advocated for new voices within the Democratic Party (despite a congressional voting record that skewed more moderate than the rest of the party, she resigned as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders).
But it was hard for Gabbard to make inroads with Democratic voters — the more Democrats got to know her over the course of the campaign, the less they liked her. This was probably compounded by the fact that perhaps the most attention Gabbard received all cycle long was when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Republicans were “grooming” her to be a third-party spoiler and when Gabbard was one of only three Democrats who did not vote in favor of impeaching President Trump.
There were many other long-shot candidates in 2020, but what set Gabbard apart was how long she stayed in the race despite not winning more than 4 percent of the vote in any contest except tiny American Samoa (where she was born). Other candidates stuck in the 1 to 2 percent range in national polls dropped out once voting began, if not before. She even gave up a safe House seat to stay in the presidential race, announcing in October that she would not run for reelection even though Hawaii is one of the few states that allows candidates to run for Congress and president at the same time.1 Even by March, after candidates like former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who were polling above 10 percent nationally, were dropping out of the race, Gabbard pushed on.
By then, Gabbard’s campaign looked more like a protest campaign than one with any intention of winning. She did not contest multiple key states on the primary calendar, including Iowa, where she did not hold a public event after Oct. 24, 2019. In early March, she told ABC News she was staying in the race in order to speak to Americans “about the sea change we need in our foreign policy” and promote her pet issue of ending military intervention abroad. It was beginning to look like Gabbard would take her campaign almost all the way to the convention, following in the footsteps of past presidential candidates who were misfits in their own party, like former Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. But money may have been an issue for Gabbard; in January, she raised only $1.1 million but spent $1.8 million, an obviously unsustainable rate.
Upon dropping out of the race, Gabbard also endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, despite the fact that her 2016 pick, Sanders, is still in the race, albeit a heavy underdog. It was an interesting olive branch to the establishment wing of the party with which Gabbard has openly feuded so much in the past. It would also seem to foreclose the possibility that Gabbard will run as a third-party candidate in the general election, perhaps splitting the Democratic vote and throwing the election to Trump. She has previously denied that she would do so, but it would be especially difficult for her now to turn around and campaign against a candidate she has endorsed.
And although her withdrawal from the race may be a mere formality at this point, it is symbolic because she was the last major presidential candidate2 who was nonwhite, as well as the last woman in the race. America’s first elected female president will have to wait at least four more years. Another less significant but more surprising streak will also continue: With Gabbard’s departure, Democrats still have never nominated a presidential candidate from the West.