Gabbard caught attention of veterans group early

 ·  Richard Borreca, Honolulu Star Advertiser   ·   Link to Article

In Charlotte, N.C., this week, the Hawaii news wasn't that Sen. Daniel K. Inouye was attending his 14th consecutive Democratic National Convention; the new news was that 31-year old Tulsi Gabbard was attending her first.

The online political news outfit, Politico, tabbed Gabbard one of the "Five New Faces to Watch" at the convention, and the former state representative and city councilwoman's rapid ascent guarantees that Hawaii will be watching her after the convention.

Although she is not yet in the U.S. House, Gabbard is expected to easily win her general election and join the ranks of Betty Farrington, Patsy Mink, Pat Saiki, Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa as a female member of Hawaii's congressional delegation.

Gabbard appears to be like none of her predecessors.

The young Democrat comes into office free of much of the entangling political alliances that hurt as much as they help.

Gabbard was not a candidate pushed by public worker unions, she wasn't put up by Hawaii's old boy network, the Inouye forces didn't boost her campaign and when she started, and most of her congressional district had not even heard of her.

Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org and an Iraq War veteran, heard of Gabbard, so when the Hawaii National Guard captain and veteran of tours in both Baghdad and Kuwait asked for help, Soltz was interested.

"There have literally been hundreds of candidates I've been incredibly fond of, personally, but VoteVets didn't spend resources on, because we had to be realistic about where we could and could not wage a winning fight," Soltz said in a fascinating insider's account in the recent issue of Campaigns and Elections magazine of how VoteVets.org spent $317,000 on Gabbard's campaign.

"I knew in my gut that Tulsi Gabbard in Hawaii was one of the most compelling veterans we ever had the chance to promote," Soltz said.

He added that he had left his political organization for a second tour of duty in Iraq, and that echoed the fact that Gabbard left a safe seat in the Hawaii Legislature to volunteer to served with her National Guard troops at
war.

"Tulsi was the first-ever legislator in Hawaii - and the first we've ever spoken with - to leave elected office and head to war," Soltz said.

Soltz said politics in Hawaii was mostly the old boys club playing musical chairs.

"Politics is very insular there. It isn't very often that Hawaiians have a chance to vote for someone fresh and new," Soltz wrote.

If Gabbard's opponent, Mufi Hannemann, made a mistake in the campaign, Soltz said, it was dismissing the unknown Gabbard, who was free to run her own campaign without any hits from the former two-time mayor.

Both VoteVets and Emily's List, another progressive organization helping Gabbard, did their own polls and put their newly mined research to work.

"Given that she wasn't polling well and had incredibly low name ID, Hannemann didn't work to define her before she could define herself. This is where we pounce," Soltz explained.

The organization's base support is changing, Soltz said, and it was happening just when Gabbard needed help.

"We can appeal to base progressive voters, swing voters, and can actually cross-pressure conservative voters who might typically support Republican candidates," Soltz said.

"These voters would become prime targets for VoteVets. And unlike many other progressive messengers, we can have a greater impact when it comes to sharing messages with male voters - particularly white men."

Of course, Soltz is describing the voters that Hannemann was hoping to capture: white, semi-Republican-leaning men. 

Although Soltz sees much of the contest in terms of VoteVets's involvement, equally important was the fact that Hannemann's popularity appears to be on the wane - and if the race is between Hannemann and another capable candidate, a number of people are just going to vote against Hannemann. 

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