Hawaii Rep.Tulsi Gabbard appeared poised to be one of the many forgotten 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. That was until former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton decided to call her out on David Plouffe’s podcast.
After Clinton’s attack on Gabbard – calling her “favorite of the Russians” – the Hawaii Democrat’s poll numbers rose, earning her a place on the November debate stage.
Before the Democratic debate on October 15, Gabbard looked like she was going to miss November’s debate. Candidates needed to hit at least 3% in four qualifying polls. Gabbard had never hit that 3% mark in any qualifying poll this entire year.
Then Clinton’s remarks came on October 17.
Following Clinton’s podcast appearance, Gabbard got a qualifying poll from Suffolk University Iowa poll that was taken partially before Clinton’s comments and partially after.
She then reached 5% in a CNN/University of New Hampshire poll conducted the following week. Over that same period, Suffolk gave Gabbard another qualifying poll. Finally, she earned 3% in a Quinnipiac University poll from Iowa this past week.
Four qualifying polls means Gabbard is in the November debate, where she’ll be able to spread a message that Clinton is not a fan of.
It is, of course, difficult to say with certainty that Clinton’s remarks caused Gabbard to rise, but it’s difficult to escape the likelihood given the polling data.
Gabbard headed into the October debate with little momentum and the debate didn’t seem like it was going to help her. Her performance was not widely hailed (as it was for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg).
An Ipsos Knowledge Panel poll taken after the debate but before Clinton’s remarks seem to back up the reviews of a mediocre Gabbard performance. Among those who debated in October, she ranked lowest for the percentage of Democratic primary voters who said they’d consider voting for her. Gabbard had the lowest favorable rating and worst net favorabilty (favorable - unfavorable) rating. She also had the highest jump in unfavorable ratings comparing Ipsos poll taken before and after the debate with the same respondents.
Then in nearly perfect succession, Clinton spoke about Gabbard and Gabbard started hitting the debate threshold in qualifying polls.
What Clinton may not have foreseen is that there are some Democratic primary voters who aren’t fans of hers. In our CNN poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary, Gabbard got 2% among those who said they voted for Clinton in the 2016 general election. She only reached 5% overall thanks to scoring 10% of those who said they didn’t vote for Clinton in the 2016 general election.
You see something similar happening in Quinnipiac’s poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers. Gabbard earned 0% support from those who had caucused for Clinton in 2016. She only got to 3% because she earned votes from those who either caucused for another candidate (e.g. Sanders or O’Malley) or didn’t caucus at all in 2016.
Now, to be clear, Clinton is still well liked by Democrats. Her favorable rating was 69% among Democrats in a recent Fox News poll. That means it’s extremely unlikely that Gabbard can get anywhere close to the Democratic nomination with Clinton calling her out publicly. Of course, Gabbard was very unlikely going to win the nomination before Clinton’s comments.
Instead, Clinton has boosted Gabbard’s profile, so that anti-Clinton voices within the Democratic electorate know to rally for Gabbard. So far, that’s been enough for Gabbard to make at least one debate she likely wouldn’t have made and get a platform for her message.
Additionally, it’s plausible that Gabbard makes December’s debate. She already has two of the necessary qualifying polls for that debate. That’s almost certainly thanks to Clinton.