MANCHESTER — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is betting the way to appeal to New Hampshire voters is by talking about defense and foreign policy, not kitchen-table worries like health care, housing and education.
“Foreign policy is not what keeps most people up at night,” Gabbard said in a Friday interview. “But it is central to being able to address the issues that do keep people up at night, that they do really care most about.”
Since Gabbard entered the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, she has been arguing that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pulled resources from domestic programs. Gabbard will speak at Saint Anselm College on Saturday.
Gabbard does not enjoy strong support in New Hampshire. Between three and five percent of voters want Gabbard to be the nominee, according to recent University of New Hampshire and Saint Anselm College polls. But, she pointed out, that’s up from about 1 percent earlier this year.
“Our numbers are moving in the right direction,” she said.
Gabbard’s focus on foreign policy has left her largely outside the health insurance debate that has become a defining issue of the 2020 primary race. Gabbard said she favors a health insurance system like Australia’s. There, everyone is covered by public insurance but can supplement that baseline coverage with private insurance, according to a government web site explaining the system.
She defended her focus on defense and foreign policy, arguing that too much money has been frittered away in conflicts with no clear goals — money that could pay for domestic programs.
A minority of New Hampshire voters say Gabbard is the best candidate on foreign policy. In a UNH poll, 7% of New Hampshire voters said they thought Gabbard could best handle foreign policy, compared to 41%, who said they most trust former Vice President Joe Biden.
But defense policy and foreign affairs are still central to Gabbard’s campaign, she said.
“Foreign policy is at the center of every other issue we face,” she said. “This is the issue that’s allowed us to build this coalition.”
According to the University of New Hampshire’s October poll, the coalition that has assembled around Gabbard includes few Democratic base voters, and more Republicans, conservatives and people who voted for President Donald Trump.
Gabbard has struggled to raise money — she has taken in a little more than $9 million, according to Federal Elections Commission data, about an eighth of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ $74.5 million haul. Less money means Gabbard has less to spend on field staff.
Gabbard said she has fewer than five campaign staffers in New Hampshire. She said they split their time between South Carolina and the Granite State. More established campaigns have between 30 and 60 staff in New Hampshire.
The campaign has been spending on yard signs and billboards, Gabbard said, including several prominent displays in downtown Manchester. She thinks that investment is paying off, with a few people at each New Hampshire town hall saying they came because they were curious about the billboards.
Despite spotty support in New Hampshire, Gabbard said New Hampshire was the main focus of her campaign because of the opportunity the primary presents to a candidate with little money and little name recognition. Gabbard said she was confident she is gaining support, one town hall at a time.
“There’s a great deal of value to this process,” she said.