CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Democratic Party’s next potential rising star became increasingly nervous walking up to the microphone Tuesday night. Amid a group of powerful Democratic women that included former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard said the butterflies fluttered endlessly in the minute before her speech. “Aloha, I’m Tulsi Gabbard,” she said, stepping up. By the end of her speech, the crowd hollered for Gabbard, the combat war veteran with the Hawaii Army National Guard who’s running — and almost surely will win — a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in November.
“Last night was very special to me, personally, to have the opportunity to represent my state on the biggest of national stages,” Gabbard told Business Insider on Wednesday.
That Gabbard is, at 31, already considered a potential star in her party was highly unlikely. She grew up introverted, void of any interest in politics. Eight years ago, she became Hawaii’s first elected official to resign office to go to war. And she faced an uphill challenge in this year’s Democratic primary in her district.
But now that Gabbard has arrived — quite literally — on a national stage, she represents a few elements of importance to Democrats.
Gabbard, a veteran of the Iraq war, is one of three Democratic women trying to become the first female combat war veteran to be elected to Congress. With that, she would bring fresh wartime experience and decision-making to another seat in Congress. Gabbard would also be the first Hindu elected to Congress.
At the same time, her deployments to Iraq and Kuwait compelled her to adopt more socially liberal positions on women’s reproductive issues and on issues of LGBT rights.
“From my deployments, I saw the exteme negative effects of what can happen when a government tries to be so-called moral arbiters for its people,” It caused me to reflect on the debates, the conversations, and the challenges.”
She once adopted almost the exact opposite view, growing up in the socially conservative home of state Sen. Mike Gabbard and state Board of Education member Carol Gabbard.
Then again, a lot has changed for Gabbard in the past 11 years. She said she was also an extreme introvert growing up, keeping to herself and “barely talking to anyone.” She would tell her sister to ask the store clerk if she couldn’t find something in the grocery store.
Her desire to get involved in politics came after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“After 9/11, it was a very strong wakeup call that life is short, and I needed to do my part,” Gabbard said. “So at 21 years old, when I lot of people said I couldn’t or I shouldn’t, I decided to do my best.”
At 23, when running for re-election, another war beckoned her attention. And after the two deployments to Iraq and Kuwait, she wants to become a leading voice in Congress on both veterans’ affairs and wartime affairs if she’s elected.
“It’s important to have people in Congress who know what the cost of war is,” Gabbard said. “Because we know what the cost of war is, there is great sensitivity taken into consideration before making that decision.”