UH Political Analyst on Gabbard’s Decision, Kahele’s Position

October 24, 2019, 8:15 PM HST (Updated October 24, 2019, 8:23 PM)
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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Joins In Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony. Courtesy photo.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard won’t be her title for much longer.

The Democratic candidate for President announced Thursday night she would not be seeking re-election to the US House of Representatives and would instead focus her efforts on her campaign for the White House — which, based on poll numbers, is a longshot bid at best.

Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Public Policy Center and an associate professor with the Department of Political Science, spoke with Big Island Now a little more than an hour after Gabbard made her announcement via video press release.

Moore provided insight on what Gabbard’s strategy might be, what’s next for one of Hawai‘i’s most popular politicians in recent memory and what her decision means for Hawai‘i State Senator Kai Kahele, who is now running unopposed for the vacant District 2 seat in the US House.

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Kahele had not returned multiple requests for comment as of Thursday night.

The following is a question and answer session conducted between a BIN reporter and Moore:

Q: Did you expect this? In your opinion, what are the motivations behind the Congresswoman’s decision considering polling numbers indicate she’s not likely to gain the Democratic presidential nomination?
A: It’s unusual, but I wasn’t all that surprised. She’s been entirely focused on her White House bid. She would have had a strong challenge from Kai Kahele. This would be the first time since she was first elected that she had to fight for this seat.
I don’t know if she really likes being in the House all that much. I don’t think she likes being a legislator. She (spent a lot of time criticizing) the Democratic party. That’s not the ticket to a long and successful career. I don’t think she’s ever particularly liked the idea of serving for 20 years in the House. It doesn’t really fit her personality. She is outspoken. She likes the spotlight. She has untraditional views that don’t match up to the Democratic party. That makes her life difficult as one of 435 people in the House. Most successful members are party people, and Tulsi isn’t that.
Q: What is a likely landing spot for her politically once all the dust settles?
A: I don’t know what she’s up to, to be honest. I don’t think anyone does. She’s not going to be president. Maybe she’s hoping to hold on long enough … to get a cabinet post by endorsing whoever the winning Democrat is. I think a cabinet position is what she’d really like. Maybe she’ll be a cable news commentator.
It’s not really clear what she would bring to the table (as a running mate on a presidential ticket). Not Hawai‘i’s three electoral votes. She has a loyal group of followers, but there aren’t a lot of them. Other options like Pete Buttigieg or Cory Booker make more sense.
I don’t think she’s going to run for governor or challenge (Senator Brian) Schatz or (Senator Mazie K.) Hirono. That would be pretty tough for her to pull off.
Q: Do you think she made the correct decision?
A: It’s a very unusual set of decisions that she’s made. She’s a young member of the House who decided to run for president. Nobody has pulled that off since James Garfield. If she wanted to stay in the House, she could have been there probably for the rest of her life. But that’s kind of her political career. That’s kind of the genius and the liability. She’s a real risk-taker.
It’s a smart decision if she doesn’t want to be in the House anymore, I suppose.
Q: Who, if any, are the likely candidates to now decide to run against Kahele for the open Congressional seat?
A: Someone is going to challenge him, for sure. Probably a couple of them. It’ll probably be an O‘ahu-based figure like Jill Tokuda, a former State senator who ran for lieutenant governor.
And a Republican will enter the race, but it won’t be a super competitive one because there’s (essentially) no chance they’d be able to win.
Q: How much of an advantage does Kahele have over any newcomers, considering he’s now running unopposed and more or less has been all along because Gabbard’s been campaigning for president?
A: He’s still the favorite. That could change if you get someone really well known running again. He’s done a pretty good job getting endorsements and getting his name out there. If (someone like) Colleen Hanabusa decided to run, that might change, but I think that’s pretty unlikely.
Q: When should the people of Hawai‘i expect other candidates to enter the race?
A: There’s still time. It’s probably going to happen in the next month. Sometime in November, you’re going to hear about a couple more people entering that race. There was a lot of speculation that Gabbard wasn’t going to run, but anyone would say Tulsi is almost impossible to predict.
Q: Should Sen. Kahele be happy the Congresswoman decided not to run? What about the timing of her decision?
A: Ultimately, it’s a great thing for him that it happened. It was going to happen relatively soon. On balance, it’s definitely a good thing because he now doesn’t have to face an incumbent.
In an ideal world, it would have been nice for him if she dropped out really late. But if I were Kai Kahele, I’d be very happy tonight.
Max Dible
Max Dible is a reporter for Big Island Now. He will also serve in a news capacity for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter and radio talk show personality with the Iowa State Daily and KURE 88.5 FM, respectively, in Ames, Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing and his work as a sports columnist.
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