Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and her advisers are reaching out to staffers for a possible 2020 presidential bid, according to three sources with knowledge of the moves who spoke to The Daily Beast.
Gabbard, a 37-year-old Hawaii Democrat, has not been shy about her consideration of a White House run, even telling the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that she was “seriously thinking of how I can best be of service to our country.” But the act of trying to find top aides suggests that the idea is further along than her public utterances suggest.
The congresswoman already has a relationship with a top progressive communications firm with experience in presidential campaigns. She has used Revolution Messaging for her prior congressional runs and sources say that she is making inquiries to see if the firm, which helped Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raise millions in his 2016 presidential bid, will assist her in 2020.
Arun Chaudhary, a partner at the firm who had previously done video work for Gabbard, told The Daily Beast he “can't do any 2020 talk,” but did not confirm or deny whether the agency was doing any work for a prospective run.
One person familiar with the conversations told The Daily Beast that Rania Batrice, who has been one of the people spearheading the congresswoman’s exploration of a potential run, had specifically contacted Sanders’ former New Hampshire staff to gauge their interest in a Gabbard bid. Batrice did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast about Gabbard’s current thinking and the role of Revolution Messaging. Prior to working with Gabbard, Batrice worked on the Sanders’ 2016 campaign.
Gabbard’s ties to Sanders’ orbit extend beyond Batrice and Revolution Messaging. In 2016, she resigned her seat as the Democratic National Committee vice-chair to endorse Sanders’ presidential bid. And recently she attended a gathering in Vermont held by the Sanders Institute in which progressives discussed their visions for the country and the world.
The topic of a potential run did not come up at the event, according to James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, who told The Daily Beast that he also spoke with Gabbard on the phone prior to the event in Burlington.
“I have heard no rumblings other than third party rumblings,” Zogby said. “I spent time with her. I never asked her but I know about the stories. She never mentioned anything. I think there are people talking about her but she’s not talking about it.”
But Gabbard has offered hints in other ways. She has made three trips to Iowa since September this year. Additionally she keynoted a grassroots summit in New Hampshire in September and made multiple stops throughout the state during the first weekend of December. She is also publishing a book in April of 2019. Her more recent FEC filings also show that her campaign committee made transfers of cash to three congressional candidates, including two Iowans: Cindy Axne and Dave Loebsack.
The first Hindu member of Congress and an Iraq War veteran, Gabbard has a devoted following among some progressives who appreciated her support for Sanders when few members of Congress were willing to cross Hillary Clinton in 2016. But her record is also controversial, especially when it comes to her unwillingness to criticize Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom she met on a secret trip to Syria, as well as her decision to meet with President Trump during the transition. She also recently raised eyebrows with a tweet saying Trump was “Saudi Arabia’s bitch.”