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Friday April 10th, 2020 3:06PM

Gabbard ends long-shot 2020 bid, throws support to Biden

By The Associated Press
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard suspended her presidential campaign on Thursday, ending a long-shot effort that saw her feuding with Hillary Clinton and raising fears among Democrats that she would mount a third-party 2020 bid.

In an email and a video posted to Twitter, Gabbard offered her full support to former Vice President Joe Biden, saying “it's clear that Democratic primary voters have chosen" him to take on President Donald Trump in November.

Noting their political differences, Gabbard said she respected Biden and had confidence in the motivations of his campaign effort.

“Although I may not agree with the vice president on every issue, I know that he has a good heart, and he's motivated by his love for our country and the American people," Gabbard said. "I'm confident that he will lead our country, guided by the spirit of aloha respect and compassion, and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart.”

As the coronavirus outbreak continues, Gabbard, a military veteran and a major in the Army National Guard, said she would focus on her continued service, including military experience, should it be needed.

“I feel that the best way I can be of service at this time is to continue to work for the health and wellbeing of the people of Hawaii and our country in Congress, and to stand ready to serve in uniform should the Hawaii National Guard be activated,” said Gabbard, who served two tours of duty in the Middle East.

During her candidacy, Gabbard appeared often on Fox News Channel and angered fellow Democrats by voting “present” on the articles of impeachment against Trump.

Gabbard attracted a sizable following in New Hampshire, where she frequently campaigned ahead of the state’s February primary. Some past supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state warmed to her campaign over time, and she espoused a similar outsider approach to Sanders' 2016 run, which she supported.

She was also part of what once was a historically diverse Democratic field and the last of a half-dozen female candidates to depart the race. The 38-year-old American Samoan’s campaign website described her as “the first Hindu to run for president and first practicing Hindu in Congress.” And as one of the youngest candidates in the field, Gabbard outlasted senators and governors who came into the large Democratic primary race with higher profiles.

Although she failed to qualify for any stage past the fifth debate, in November, Gabbard was awarded two delegates once voting began, according to The Associated Press’ count, both in the March 2 contest in her native American Samoa.

Yet Gabbard’s 2020 campaign was also quick to attract questions from voters. The Hawaii congresswoman has faced backlash for her 2017 meeting in Syria with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government has been accused of chemical weapons attacks against its own citizens.

And with a primary challenge looming, she announced in October she would not run for reelection to her Hawaii congressional seat. Gabbard’s decision became public shortly after a public feud with Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. In a podcast interview, Clinton appeared to call her “the favorite of the Russians” and said she believed Republicans have “got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate.”

Gabbard responded by calling Clinton the “personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” In January, she filed a defamation lawsuit against Clinton, saying Clinton's comments were based on either her own imagination or “extremely dubious conspiracy theories” that any reasonable person would know to be “inherently and objectively unreliable.”

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said, “That's ridiculous.”

As most of her Democratic House colleagues voted to impeach Trump in December, Gabbard chose to vote present on the two articles of impeachment. Former Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie called for Gabbard to resign over the vote and said she wasn't doing her job representing Hawaii.

"Look, I did not take the easy vote,” Gabbard said after returning to the campaign trail. “I took the vote that I felt was in the best interest of our country and standing in the center to be able to bring the country together, to be able to begin this reconciliation that I think is so necessary in this terribly divided moment in our country."

Questions over whether Gabbard would mount a third-party run in November’s general election continued following her feud with Clinton. Even as she was questioned for her present vote on the impeachment articles, Gabbard maintained that a third-party campaign was not something she was considering.

“Absolutely not,” Gabbard said in December 2019. "It's not going to change. My decision won't change, no matter how many times people say it, no matter how many times I get asked the question, it's not changing. I'm running to be the Democratic nominee.”

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

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