Tikka Masala For Tulsi
CLIVE, Iowa — The fourth Democratic debate between the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls took place on October 15th and featured the most candidates on a debate stage in presidential primary history. This debate gave lesser-known candidates an opportunity to demonstrate why they deserve to stay in the race for the Democratic nomination—one of those candidates was U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii.
Despite Gabbard having no paid staff in the state of Iowa, her dedicated volunteers hosted a debate watch party at Namaste India Restaurant in Clive. Approximately 25 people were in attendance for the watch party plus a few other somewhat-confused diners. That included both of us who attended to find out why these Iowans support the congresswoman from the Aloha State.
Before the debate began, we sat down to chat with Jeff Silva, a volunteer for the Gabbard campaign. He had a plate full of Indian food and was excited for the debate to get started. Silva said that he was originally from Arizona but moved to Iowa specifically to assist with Gabbard’s campaign. When asked why he supports Gabbard, Silva discussed her personality and policy stances—he saw Gabbard as a politician that will represent the common people and will remove America from “interventionist wars.” Silva also expressed concern over the institutional and systemic forces that he believed are in opposition to Tulsi Gabbard, including the Democratic National Committee, the military-industrial complex, and the “corporatists.” He further opposed a recent article in The New York Times and a CNN panel discussion about Tulsi Gabbard, which he called “hit pieces.”
Another Tulsi Gabbard supporter, Gail Buffington, shared why she is sticking with Rep. Gabbard. To Buffington, foreign policy is the most important issue a president faces, as they will make decisions that will impact the country. “[The president has] to be able to make those big calls, and it’s only [Gabbard] that I see can do that” Buffington said. Furthermore, Buffington said she likes Gabbard’s ethics, honesty, and her attitude of “service above self.” Much like Silva, Buffington demonstrated concern and disagreement with the media’s characterization of Gabbard.
The sentiment of distrust towards more “establishment” Democrats and the media was pervasive throughout the crowd of Gabbard supporters. During the pre-debate coverage, CNN commentators mentioned how Gabbard was dealing with the recent news cycle focused on her relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the watch party crowd let out a groan. The debate watchers also were not fans of former Vice President Joe Biden or U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—they laughed when Biden claimed that with his age came wisdom, and showed disappointment when the CNN moderators cut off Gabbard when she twice tried to challenge Warren.
It is unclear whether or not Gabbard will qualify for the next round of Democratic debates, but it appeared that the crowd had a second favorite candidate: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont. Silva stated his belief that Sanders also represents the common people, and the crowd applauded Sanders during the debate when he explained his Medicare-for-All bill.
While driving away from the debate, we noticed quite a few Tulsi Gabbard yard signs in the Des Moines area. Perhaps we should hold off on saying “Aloha” to the Congresswoman from Hawaii just yet.