Hawaii News Now posted a very interesting story about U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D–2nd District, and her recent fact-finding trip to Syria, where she met twice with dictator Bashar al-Assad. The story is hooked to statements from Muslim Association of Hawaii chairperson Hakim Ouansafi, who is very critical of Gabbard’s trip (click here for my Feb. 1 story on the trip).
“It is absolutely no different than saying we want to help the victims of the Holocaust, and then you go and meet with Hitler twice,” Ouansafi said in the story. “Truly, this will go in history as a black mark in her record.”
While I completely agree with the assertion, I also doubt it will do any political damage to Gabbard. See, Gabbard is very popular in Hawaii (and around the country, as you’ll see in a moment). During the 2016 election, she decisively beat back her challengers (Gabbard won 77.6 percent of the vote in the primary and 76.2 percent during the general).
But when reader recently asked me whether Gabbard’s Syria trip had hurt her popularity, I could only say that I had no idea (there is little to no polling done here, especially in non-election years). So I posed the question to Colin Moore, UH Manoa professor of political science and longtime observer of Hawaii elections.
“It’s hard to know because there’s no polling data, so there’s no way to really do any analysis,” Moore said. “My guess is that she’s still quite popular and that most voters either don’t know or don’t care about her trip to Syria. Her base is an unusual mix of veterans and progressives. My guess is that not all of them were happy about the Syria trip, but they probably still support her.”
Moore is just speculating, but I have no argument with his analysis. What’s more, when you look at her campaign contributions, it’s easy to wonder whether it would make a difference to Gabbard’s election chances even if her trip (or anything else) made her unpopular with her constituents.
That’s because Gabbard raises the vast majority of her campaign money from political action committees and individuals located outside of the 2nd District (and Hawaii itself, as it turns out). According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), an astonishing 90 percent of her campaign contributions during the 2016 election came from outside her district. And it’s not like she was just pulling in a lot of Honolulu money, either–during the election, just 27 percent of Gabbard’s campaign contributions came from Hawaii. The rest came in from the Mainland (much of it from California, Texas and Massachusetts).
The same was true during the 2014 election, the CRP noted (during that year, 91 percent of her campaign contributions came from outside her district and 70 percent arrived from some state other than Hawaii).
This is not normal–even for Hawaii. To see that we only need check on the campaign contributions of Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D–1st District. During the 2016 election, the CRP noted, 62 percent of her campaign contributions came from within the 1st District. What’s more, 79 percent of her contributions came from within Hawaii.
We can also look at the data from Gabbard’s direct predecessor, though the CRP only has state percentages for that race. During the 2010 election, Mazie Hirono (who is now a U.S. Senator) won reelection to the 2nd District seat with 74 percent of her contributions coming from within Hawaii.
Information like this should make 2nd District voters nervous. But given Moore’s earlier analysis, I doubt it will happen.
Photo of Rep. Gabbard courtesy U.S. House of Representatives