Rep. Tulsi Gabbard drops out of the Democratic presidential primary, endorses Joe Biden

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race on Thursday and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. 

“Today, I’m suspending my presidential campaign, and offering my full support to Vice President Joe Biden in his quest to bring our country together,” she said in a video announcing her decision.

“After Tuesday’s primary results, it is clear that Democratic Primary voters have chosen Vice President Joe Biden to be the person who will take on President Trump in the general election,” Gabbard said. 

Shortly after Gabbard announced she was dropping out of the race, Biden congratulated her and accepted her endorsement. 

“Tulsi Gabbard has put her life on the line in service of this country and continues to serve with honor today,” Biden tweeted. “I’m grateful to have her support and look forward to working with her to restore honor and decency to the White House.”

Biden is close to sealing up the Democratic presidential nomination as his rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, mulls his options. 

The former vice president has clinched victories in most of the nominating states so far, giving him a boost just as it looked like his campaign was about to collapse. 

In endorsing Biden, Gabbard has shown that she has no interest in being a third-party spoiler.

Her 2020 campaign received a flood of attention in October when 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton suggested on a popular podcast that the Russians were grooming a third-party candidate, apparently referring to Gabbard, whose candidacy had been promoted on some Russian websites linked to 2016 election interference.

“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said. “She’s a favorite of the Russians.”

Gabbard dismissed the accusation and vowed not to run as a third-party candidate against Trump. In January, she sued Clinton, alleging defamation.

Her decision to drop out of the race comes in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak, which has roiled markets and infected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Gabbard, in an email to supporters on Thursday, addressed her role in the outbreak, saying “the best way I can be of service at this time is to continue to work for the health and wellbeing of the people of Hawaii and our country in Congress, and to stand ready to serve in uniform should the Hawaii National Guard be activated.”

The 38-year-old congresswoman officially jumped into the race in February 2019. Even after more than a year on the campaign trail, she never gained traction in national polls and lagged in fundraising.

Yet she was the last woman standing in a race that saw a record number of woman candidates.

In the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the 2020 primary, Gabbard received 0% of the vote, NBC News reported. She had similar results in the New Hampshire primary, the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary. 

Despite her poor showing, Gabbard stayed in the race, outlasting former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who had each performed better than she did.

Gabbard has said she will not seek reelection to her congressional seat in 2020.

On and off the campaign trail, she has long been seen as a controversial figure in politics, often at odds with her own party.

During her candidacy, Gabbard highlighted her record as an Iraq War veteran who would fight for well-paying jobs and affordable health care.

Early on, Gabbard’s campaign came under fire for her past work with her father’s anti-gay advocacy group. Her decision in 2016 to join Republicans in demanding that President Barack Obama use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” and her 2017 trip to meet with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad received renewed criticism on the campaign trail.

Gabbard apologized for her past anti-LGBTQ remarks and said her position on Assad was misunderstood. She moved to the left on social issues such as gay marriage and supported “Medicare for All” and a $15 minimum wage.

But she managed to have a standout moment during the first presidential debate, when she corrected Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan after he claimed that the Taliban committed the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“The Taliban didn’t attack us on 9/11,” Gabbard shot back. “Al-Qaeda did.”

Her last debate performance was in November.

— CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

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