Tulsi Gabbard was a surprise breakout in first Democratic debate

Gabbard earlier this month.
Gabbard earlier this month.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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Ten people vying to be president on one stage was always going to be messy, and the first Democratic primary debate was just that.

Candidates talked over one another, MSNBC had technical problems, moderators struggled to stop candidates from talking when their time was up, and New York mayor Bill de Blasio yelled a lot. It’s not really possible to declare a “winner,” especially since there’s another debate tomorrow night with an entirely new slate of candidates.

But two candidates seemed to pique a lot of interest among US voters, at least when judged by who Americans searched for on Google: New Jersey senator Cory Booker and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

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A poll by the right-leaning Drudge Report also found Gabbard to be the breakout of the debate with 38% of the vote, well ahead of Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren in second place. Gabbard also topped polls by local news sites including NJ.com and the Washington Examiner.

Booker has long been considered a serious candidate by talking heads in Washington, DC. But Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, is considered a long shot. That’s in part because of her controversial meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad two years ago, and her decision to resign from the Democratic National Convention to support Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in 2016, upsetting mainstream Democrats at the time.

Gabbard’s debate performance was up and down. The first question put to her, about equal pay, she never really answered, talking instead about something else entirely (Sept. 11, 2001). But she hit her stride when discussing foreign policy, especially when arguing with Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan about pulling out of Afghanistan, forcing probably the biggest gaffe of the night:


Google search interest in Gabbard may have been because of her sharp answers, but it could just as well have been because of the distinctive gray streak in her hair. Or maybe it was just because no one knew who she was. Well, they do now.