Who Is Tulsi Gabbard? What to Know About the Headline-Grabbing 2020 Candidate & Hawaii Lawmaker

Gabbard, a Hawaii representative and a long-shot Democratic candidate, was seemingly called out by Hillary Clinton for potential "grooming" by Russians "to be the third-party candidate" next year

Tulsi Gabbard
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty

Presidential hopeful and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard may be a long shot for the Democratic nomination, but she’s recently risen to the top of the political conversation.

Last week, Hillary Clinton appeared to suggest that Russians could be “grooming” her for a third-party run next year — criticism which put Gabbard in perhaps her brightest spotlight since launching her 2020 bid in January (and which she turned into fundraising fodder).

Here are a few things to know about the 38-year-old congresswoman.

She was raised in a multi-faith household.

Born April 12, 1981, in Leloaloa, American Samoa, Gabbard is the fourth of five children brought up in both Christian and Hindu faiths. Her parents, Mike and Carol Gabbard, taught Tulsi the New Testament of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita.

On her campaign’s official website, Gabbard writes that she came to realize the “essence of these two great scriptures is the same” and that rather than calling her religious, it is “more accurate to say that I am a very spiritual person, and yoga and meditation are the focus of my spiritual practices.”

Growing up in Hawaii, Gabbard was avid surfer and graduated from Hawaii Pacific University in 2009, and she has been part of the Hawaii Army National Guard since 2003.

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in Iowa in September. Scott Olson/Getty

She married her husband at a “perfect” Hawaiian ceremony.

In 2015, Gabbard took a break from her congressional responsibilities to tie the knot with cinematographer Abraham Williams. “It was far beyond what I dreamed of,” she told PEOPLE the day after the wedding. “Literally, it was perfect.”

Gabbard, who split from first husband Eduardo Tamayo in 2006, also said the traditional Vedic ceremony “brought all the important elements of our life together.”

She’s apologized for her previous stances on LGBTQ+ issues.

Gabbard issued a statement in January addressing her prior views on same-sex marriage, including her controversial work at her father’s anti-gay organization, The Alliance for Traditional Marriage.

Despite her track record with the LGBTQ community, Gabbard said her views had changed.

“In my past, I said and believed things that were wrong, and worse, they were very hurtful to people in the LGBTQ community and to their loved ones,” she said.

Noting “much work remains to ensure equality and civil rights protections” for LGBTQ people, she said that if she won the presidency she would “continue to fight for equal rights for all.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in January. Jose Luis Magana/AP/Shutterstock

She has paved the way with many firsts.

Gabbard made history as the first female combat veteran to run for the presidency. But that isn’t the only trail she has blazed: At age 21, Gabbard became the youngest woman ever to be elected to Hawaii’s state legislature, representing West Oahu.

When she joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, Gabbard also became the first American Samoan congresswoman as well as the first practicing Hindu member of Congress.

She’s broken away from Democrats when it comes to Syria.

Gabbard’s politics are broadly aligned with her Democratic colleagues, including supporting criminal justice reform, action to address climate change and expanding health care. But her take on Syria’s president, the Syrian civil war and its related conflicts — which she conspicuously labeled a “regime change” — differs greatly from her fellow candidates.

At a debate earlier this month, she blamed the media and other politicians for the mainstream portrayal of Syria, viewed by many as a quagmire of competing interests, made more complicated by the threat of ISIS, which has frustrated the U.S. government since 2011.

Gabbard has called for an end to much of America’s military action abroad, instead emphasizing what she calls peace-building between world leaders over “gunboat diplomacy.”

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard during the October Democratic primary debate in Ohio. Win McNamee/Getty

Gabbard met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in January 2017. In February, she said that al-Assad, described by human rights advocates and humanitarian observers as a vicious autocrat, was actually “not the enemy of the United States,” according to The New York Times.

However, as the Times notes, Gabbard called Assad a “brutal dictator” while appearing on CNN in August.

Earlier this year, California Sen. Kamala Harris, another 2020 candidate, said Gabbard was “an apologist” for Assad, “who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches.”

According to Politico, Gabbard also stands for the legalization of marijuana, a federal minimum wage of $15, free college tuition, universal background checks for firearms and bringing home the troops.

She’s been in a tit-for-tat with Hillary Clinton on Russia.

In an interview on Thursday, without mentioning any specific names, Hillary Clinton made a comment seemingly suggesting Gabbard was being “groomed” by Russians who would favor a third-party to keep Trump in power. (In Clinton’s own narrow victory to Trump, Green Party candidate Jill Stein received more than 1 million votes.)

“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said on former Obama adviser David Plouffe’s podcast. “She’s the favorite of the Russians.”

Clinton also implicitly described this candidate — likely Gabbard — as an “asset” for Russia, along with Stein.

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (left) and Hillary Clinton. Slaven Vlasic/Getty; Ethan Miller/Getty

Responding in a series of tweets on Friday, Gabbard — who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders over Clinton in the lead up to the 2016 election — fired back at the accusation, labeling Clinton a “warmonger” and the “personification of rot.”

She challenged Clinton to join in the 2020 presidential race directly. President Donald Trump defended Gabbard, as did Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, according to Politico.

Gabbard’s own prospects in the race are unclear as she has yet to poll higher nationally than about 1 percent.

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