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ADEL, Iowa — A two-week hiatus in the midst of a presidential campaign? It seems risky — especially as the Democratic field winnows — but fourth-term Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard left for an Army National Guard training trip in Indonesia and has been off the grid for more than 10 days.
VICE News followed the congresswoman and Iraq War veteran while she campaigned in the key primary state of Iowa right before the trip.
"I'm grateful for that privilege of being able to serve in this way. Some people are saying, 'Well, gosh, you know, your campaign is going to take a hit.' You know, if that's the case, so be it,” she said in Ames ahead of a meet-and-greet at a local coffee shop.
Service — in particular, her own military experience — shapes much of her worldview.
After voluntarily deploying to Iraq, she felt betrayed by the Bush administration’s false claims of weapons of mass destruction. "I went and deployed to Iraq and enlisted in the military believing the lie that was told to so many of us, to the whole country,” she explained.
Gabbard's military focus is attracting a unique cross-section of voters as she campaigns. At the Sweet Corn Parade in Adel, a man approached her to say that he was a Republican but would be voting for her.
"I love your military background… We’ve got to stop these wars,” he said as cars lined up for the annual event.
She continues to defend her 2017 trip to Syria, where she met with the country's brutal dictator, Bashar Assad. When asked if she believes he has used chemical weapons against his own people — as U.S. officials have determined — Gabbard is quick to place blame on other terrorist organizations.
"There have been a lot of different chemical weapons attacks, and I think they have been perpetrated by the Assad government as well as other terrorist groups and other actors on the ground,” she told VICE News.
Gabbard’s pro-military, anti-interventionist view has helped her amass more than $6 million in her warchest, but she’s a long shot candidate — one who’s already being primaried in her congressional re-election race. Plus she has a little less than a week to qualify for the next Democratic presidential candidates debate.
This segment originally aired August 23, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.