Few Hawaii contributors to U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential bid
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has attracted little financial support locally for her presidential bid, with just 3% of the $1.95 million she raised in the first quarter of this year coming from residents of her home state.
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Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has attracted little financial support locally for her presidential bid, with just 3% of the $1.95 million she raised in the first quarter of this year coming from residents of her home state. Noticeably missing from her donor list are influential leaders in the business and political community who are known to contribute generously to local candidates.
While the lackluster financial showing at the local level is of little consequence to Gabbard’s presidential aspirations as she tours the country drumming up support and campaign contributions in key primary states. Still it could be an indication of where political support is aligning at home if she runs again next year for her congressional seat.
State Sen. Kai Kahele, who jumped into the race early, announcing in January that he would seek Gabbard’s congressional seat representing the neighbor islands and rural Oahu, has by comparison received donations from a substantial number of well-known political players and lobbyists. In total, he raised $250,000 in the first quarter, a considerable haul for a first time congressional candidate who has only held elected office for three years.
Of the $1.95 million Gabbard raised during the quarter ending March 31, about four dozen Hawaii residents contributed a total of $56,880. Among her contributors were her father and mother, state Sen. Mike Gabbard and his wife, Carol Porter Gabbard, who contributed the maximum of $2,800 each, Lois Mitsunaga of Mitsunaga & Associates and David Carey, former CEO of Outrigger Hotels.
Gabbard has trailed significantly behind her competitors in the Democratic presidential primary race. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders brought in the most this quarter, with $18.2 million in individual contributions, followed by California Sen. Kamala Harris with $12 million and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke with $9.4 million. In the money race, Gabbard finished 12th among primary contenders, according to a New York Times analysis of major candidates.
While Gabbard is trailing in cash and in the national polls, her campaign recently announced that 65,000 people had donated to her presidential campaign, a milestone that’s expected to make her eligible to join the televised Democratic debates in June. Making the national debate stage is a significant opportunity for lesser known candidates like Gabbard.
By early next year it should be clear who the front-runners are in the Democratic primary for president, at which time Gabbard may be turning her attention back to her current seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Candidates in Hawaii can begin officially filing to run in the August 2020 congressional primary in February, with a final deadline in June 2020.
Gabbard, who didn’t respond to a request to comment for this story, has not responded to questions from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in recent months about whether she intended to seek her congressional seat again next year. But political analysts in Hawaii have said they expect she will. And while she has trailed her opponents in fundraising so far during the presidential primary, those contributions for the most part can be transferred to her congressional campaign committee if she does bow out of the presidential primary, according to the Federal Election Commission.
In the meantime, Kahele has gotten off to an aggressive start in his campaign for the congressional seat with a donor list including such notable figures as Walter Dods, a longtime political strategist and supporter of leading Democrats. Dods is former chairman of First Hawaiian Bank and served as campaign chairman for the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye. Also donating to Kahele’s campaign are developer Stanford Carr; Alicia Moy, president and CEO of Hawaii Gas; Robert Nobriga, executive vice president and chief financial officer at American Savings Bank and a Kamehameha trustee; and Tim Johns, CEO of Zephyr Insurance who in the past chaired Mazie Hirono’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Kahele has also received contributions from Micah Kane, CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation; Richard Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association; William Kaneko, a partner in the Honolulu office of Denton’s; former Attorney General David Louie; Ivan Lui-Kwan, a director at Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher and former board chairman for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation; and Art Ushijima, president and CEO of The Queen’s Health Systems.
“I think it shows a lot of great momentum,” said Kahele of the contributions. “I think it’s a great first start in what I view as an uphill battle and a long road ahead.”
Kahele said that while it was unconventional for him to enter the race so early, he felt that he needed to in order to attract enough money and name recognition to seriously compete.
“I really felt that the work that I would need to put in and the amount of money I would need to raise and the grassroots, organizational structure I would need to develop over all of the neighbor islands and Oahu will take up a lot of my time,” he said.
He noted that he is still flying full time as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot, attending his monthly drills with the Hawaii National Guard, serving in the state Legislature and flying back to Hilo be with his wife and young kids.
“And so this is not something I just wanted to do on a whim six months before the primary,” he said. “I knew if I was going to do this that I needed to start now.”
While Kahele has already attracted a list of influential donors, that doesn’t mean that Gabbard won’t also attract significant support if she begins campaigning locally for the House seat she has held since 2012.
And the lack of financial support among political and business leaders in Hawaii for her presidential bid doesn’t mean she is losing support among regular voters, said John Hart, chairman of the communications department of Hawaii Pacific University. Gabbard has enjoyed high popularity ratings since being elected to Congress.
“She is a Democrat,” said Hart, “but she’s really never had the support of the party establishment and has never really sought it.”