Tulsi Gabbard, the last House member still in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Thursday she would not seek reelection for her Hawaii seat.
“I believe I can best serve the people of Hawaiʻi and our country as your President and Commander-in-Chief,” she said in an announcement posted on Twitter.
Gabbard’s decision clears the way for Hawai‘i State Senator Kai Kahele, who announced a primary challenge against her this spring.
“I wholly respect and appreciate Congresswoman Gabbard’s decision not to pursue re-election for her Congressional seat as she pursues the Presidency,” Kahele said in a tweet. “I wish her and her family the best going forward. I remain fully committed to my campaign to becomes Hawaii’s next Congressman.”
Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Public Policy Center and an associate professor with the Department of Political Science, told Hawaii publication Big Island Now that he expected Gabbard’s decision would prompt other candidates to enter the House race.
“Someone is going to challenge him, for sure. Probably a couple of them,” he said.
But Kahele, who has received endorsements from several prominent Hawaiian office holders, has a good shot at being the favorite. He is a military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kahaile was already fundraising off Gabbard’s announcement Friday morning. “Aloha!,” he wrote in a tweet posted at 6:30 am Eastern Time.
“Today is a new day & we have an open U.S. House seat for Hawaiiʻs 2nd Congressional district. While our opponent may change, the fundamentals of building our grassroots campaign will not. I need your help. Can you pitch in $3 today?”
Gabbard’s announcement comes a day after another House member who had been seeking the presidential nomination, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, said he had decided to seek reelection to Congress instead next year.
Gabbard has had no trouble winning reelection to her House seat since her first campaign in 2012, when she ran as an underdog and ended up defeating former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann by 20 points. In her early House career, she was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. But she quickly garnered a reputation as a maverick.
She was the first Democratic lawmaker to meet with President-elect Donald Trump after the election and she shocked her colleagues in 2017 when she traveled to Syria for a secret visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of using chemical weapons on his people.
Gabbard has said she is undeterred by politics in her opposition to American efforts at regime change she has dubbed “forever wars.” She has used a similar playbook in her presidential run, which has been marked by criticism of party leaders and the media.
Her unorthodox positions made her a target of former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who speculated last week on a podcast that Gabbard was being “groomed” by Republicans to become a third party nominee. The comment set off a tussle that dominated the media cycle when it was misquoted by several outlets, who reported that Clinton thought Russians were grooming Gabbard.