U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii discusses her campaign for the Democratic party presidential nomination on Sunday inside the van she travels in during a stop in Hallowell. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

HALLOWELL — Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard told a crowd of about 150 people in Hallowell Sunday she is the Democratic candidate for president who can unite the country across the current partisan divide.

Gabbard said the biggest issue facing the country is the underlying partisan divide between left and right, Democrat and Republican, and the loss of people’s willingness to treat each other with respect and work cooperatively for the good of the country.

She said other Democratic candidates for president have been dismissive of Republicans, while she will continue to try to work with them, and treat them with respect.

“I’ve been actively reaching out,” to both sides, she said, in hopes that both sides would “recognize now is the time to put country first. To unite our country so we can usher in a bright future.”

Gabbard, 38,  is serving her fourth term representing her native Hawaii in the U.S. House of Representatives, a term that expires Jan. 3, 2021.

She enlisted in the Army National Guard after the attacks on 9/11 and and was deployed to Kuwait in 2008 and 2009 as a U.S. Army military police platoon leader. She is currently a major in the Hawaii National Guard.

Regis Tremblay, of Woolwich, a member of Veterans for Peace whose two sons are in the Army, asked Gabbard “what will you do to bring my boys home? To bring all troops home and to end all these endless wars?”

She responded that she sees the president’s job as commander in chief of the Armed Forces as the most important job. She said the United States has gotten into too many wars that don’t make the country safer and are focused, instead, on regime change that she said is not worth sacrificing our troops’ lives for. She said there are times when war is necessary but it should always be the last choice.

“For too long my brothers and sisters in uniform have been sent on missions… to fight in wars that do not make us any safer,” she said, citing Afghanistan as an example. “I’ll end these wasteful regime-change wars. And instead take these taxpayer dollars and reinvest them in our communities and people right here at home.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii speaks to a crowd during a campaign stop Sunday in Hallowell. Gabbard is seeking the Democratic party nomination for president. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

National polls indicate Gabbard would receive less than 2% of the vote. She finished seventh in the New Hampshire primary last week with 9,655 votes, or 3.3%. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom Gabbard endorsed in 2016, won the Democratic New Hampshire primary, with 76,324 votes, or 25.7%, narrowly edging out Pete Buttigieg who received 72,457 votes, or 24.4%.

Gabbard urged the audience to disregard the polls and pundits and consider voting for her. She urged them not to focus on the voting result from just two states.

“The power in our country lies in the voters,” she said. “People who want to see us, as a nation, heal our divided people. People want a leader who can do that.”

The next Democratic nomination contests are caucuses in Nevada Feb. 22 and primaries in South Carolina Feb. 29.

The Maine primary will be held on the so-called Super Tuesday, March 3, the same day as 13 other state primaries.

Gabbard said she came to Maine this weekend from campaigning in South Carolina. She said she hopes to return to Maine once more before the March 3 primary. She’s traveling in a customized van, which was parked outside the Maple Hill Inn Farm Inn and Conference Center where she spoke to a standing-room-only crowd Sunday evening, with her face on the side and a red, white and blue motif on the van.

One audience member asked Gabbard to address her past comments, in the early 2000s, in which she touted working for her father’s anti-gay organization which advocated for an amendment to the Hawaii state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

Gabbard said she has since had a change of opinion and her comments were made “a very long time ago, and they are views I regret. I no longer hold those views.”

Earlier this month, Gabbard sued former first lady and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for defamation after Clinton branded her a “Russian asset” in an October 2019 podcast interview. Clinton did not name Gabbard but claimed a female Democratic candidate was favored by the Russians and possibly being groomed as a third-party candidate.

Gabbard spoke in Portland on Saturday.

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