HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has announced she won’t seek re-election to Congress in 2020 so she can focus on her run for the White House.
“I will not be seeking re-election to Congress in 2020, and humbly ask you for your support for my candidacy for president of the United States,” Gabbard said, in a video statement.
The news opens the door to a highly-competitive race for her seat representing Hawaii’s Congressional District, and likely has repercussions for other local races.
Shortly after Gabbard made her plans to run for the White House public, state Sen. Kai Kahele announced he was seeking her seat.
Gabbard decision not to seek a fifth term means she’ll avoid what would have been a tough race for re-election.
“Senator Kahele would be a serious challenger. Tulsi Gabbard has never really had to face a serious challenger like that since she’s been in that House seat. So it would have been a tough campaign,” said Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore.
A recent poll showed Gabbard retained a double-digit lead over Kahele. But he was expected to put up a solid fight closer to the election.
Kahele has already raised more than $500,000 for his campaign for Congress.
He’s now the presumed frontrunner.
On Thursday night, he said Gabbard had made the “right decision” by not seeking re-election.
“The representative for the 2nd Congressional District needs to be someone who is willing to do a full-time job, which is why I’m running,” he said.
Other contenders are almost certain to join the mix.
Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda said she is keeping all her options open.
“My team and I have been seriously looking at potential opportunity for 2020 and 2022,” said Tokuda. “Washington D.C. has been something that I have looked at."
Gabbard, 38, has long positioned herself as a maverick. And her decision to pursue a long shot White House bid over a re-election fits in with her style.
Gabbard announced her plans to run for president in January. And while she’s consistently polled at 2% or below nationally, she’s also generated lots of national headlines.
Most recently, her spat with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has earned her both condemnation and praise ― depending on who’s talking.
The Hawaii Congresswoman is fighting for voters’ attention in a crowded field of Democratic contenders. She’s sought to distinguish herself from her competitors by sticking with a staunch anti-interventionist platform, pointing to her military service, and questioning not only the tactics of Republicans but those of her Democratic colleagues in Washington, D.C.
Gabbard was elected to Hawaii’s Legislature at 21 years old. And in 2012, she beat out veteran Hawaii politician Mufi Hannemann to secure a seat in Congress.
She was born in American Samoa and has a number of firsts to her name, including as the first Hindu-American in Congress.