“She’s the only one with a heart of gold and a fearless courage to face the powerful,” Hawaii-based musician Billie Sky sang of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) before a town hall she hosted at the Top of the Hop on Sunday night.
The Democratic presidential candidate eventually took the stage after Sky’s nearly 40-minute performance of covers and original songs, two of which had been written with Gabbard in mind. The congresswoman spoke to a crowd of around 190 students and community members, focusing much of her 20-minute speech on the recent assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani before finishing with a call for political unity and opening the floor for a question-and-answer session that would last an additional hour.
Gabbard began her speech by declaring President Donald Trump’s authorization of Soleimani’s assassination “an act of war,” and noted that she believed that the assassination could be the beginning of a deadly, expensive conflict.
“If it continues to escalate, it will end up being far more costly, far more devastating, both in terms of lives — American lives and lives of people across the region in the Middle East — and far more costly in terms of taxpayer dollars than anything we have seen in the wars waged in Iraq, in Syria and in Afghanistan.”
She encouraged voters to be “clear-eyed” about the consequences of Trump’s actions and frequently referenced her own experiences as a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard during the Iraq War.
Gabbard then segued into her plans for combating the political gridlock that she said has taken over Washington, stressing that, regardless of party, “we are all Americans” — a theme to which she frequently returned during her question-and-answer period.
During the Q&A, she fielded questions on issues such as climate change, ongoing 9/11 investigations and her ability to “bridge the gap” between the political parties. Addressing the last topic, she told a lengthy anecdote about her first year in Congress, during which she said her mother’s macadamia nut toffee and her own hand-written letters to other congressmen were crucial steps in fostering the connection and respect she said is essential to reducing political polarization.
In response to a question about her poor polling thus far, she noted that, “all the polls in 2016 said Trump would lose,” encouraging voters not to pay too much attention to polls but noting that, if she does not win the primary, she will not consider running as an independent.
According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls in New Hampshire, Gabbard is polling at four percent in the state, while her national polling average is only two percent.
Eric Lee ’23, who attended the event and said he “unenthusiastically” plans to vote for Gabbard in the New Hampshire primary, said that he wasn’t particularly excited about many of Gabbard’s ideas. However, he appreciated her willingness to raise questions that “most people are not” — particularly those related to the involvement of the U.S. in the Middle East — and thus preferred her to any other candidate in the Democratic primary.
“I have three younger sisters, and the Afghan war is older than all of them,” Lee noted.
However, he added that he thought Gabbard’s remarks on political unity were the strongest part of her talk, and contrasted her rhetoric to that of other candidates.
“She’s one of the only ones that isn’t mostly focused on yelling at other people,” Lee said.
Hartford residents Jon and Nicroya Parker said they are both Gabbard supporters and look forward to voting for her in February, attributing their support specifically to her positions against the assassination of Soleimani and against war in general.
Hanover resident Carol Edwards noted that, though she is a registered Republican, she attended Gabbard’s event to gather information before the primary. While she said that, even after the talk, she was planning to vote for Trump, she noted that she preferred Gabbard to the rest of the Democratic candidates and appreciated her military background. Edwards added that she had tried to see Gabbard in November, when she visited the Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon, but was not able to due to space constraints. She said she would be interested in hearing more from Gabbard in the future, specifically regarding Soleimani.
“We’ve taken out other leaders in the Middle East, so I just wonder why killing Soleimani was, to her, the wrong thing to do,” Edwards said.
Eileen (Eily) Brady is a '21 from Chicago who studies government and romance languages. Eily loves travel, politics, iced tea and her dogs, Mac and Charlie. She is thrilled to be reporting the news for The Dartmouth.