- Associated Press - Monday, March 18, 2019

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard said her top priorities if she’s elected to the White House in 2020 would be to end military action in countries such as Iraq and Syria and to de-escalate tensions with nuclear-armed countries like Russia and China.

The Hawaii congresswoman told a diverse crowd of less than 100 people in Las Vegas on Monday afternoon that she wants to end what she called “wasteful regime change wars” that are costing the U.S. trillions of dollars.

“Power lies within our hands to change course, to bend the arc of history away from war and toward peace,” she said.

Gabbard, a combat veteran, said she would instead like to spend that money on health care, education and other needs in the U.S.

The 37-year-old’s event at the Asian Cultural Center downtown came as she made her first trip as a presidential candidate to the early-nominating state of Nevada. She later held a luau-themed event west of the Las Vegas Strip attended by about 100 people, many from the city’s Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations.

Gabbard has struggled to match the name recognition and fundraising of others in the crowded Democratic field such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The congresswoman said she’s working to spread her message with grassroots support.

Before her town hall started, volunteers handed out fliers to attendees asking them to donate to her campaign and informing them that she needs to receive donations from 65,000 people in order to qualify for a spot in Democratic National Committee debates this summer.

Gabbard told reporters she’s earned contributions from about 40,000 individual donors so far.

Gabbard, wearing a lei around her neck Monday afternoon, preached a peaceful, at-times spiritual message, describing a “corruption of spirit casting a shadow over our country” and a need for people to recognize the suffering of others and to come together to make a change.

Unlike other Democratic candidates, Gabbard didn’t use her speech to criticize President Donald Trump, instead laying blame for problems like tensions with nuclear-armed countries on Republicans and Democrats, the establishment in Washington and entrenched special interests.

“It’s important for us to step outside of just the political conversation and instead focus on people — the people who are being impacted by the policies that this administration is putting forward and that leaders in Congress are putting forward,” Gabbard told reporters Monday night.

She said there are many decisions Trump has made that she disagrees with and thinks are damaging, such as his decision to withdraw from the nuclear arms treaty with Russia. The congresswoman said she also wants environmental protections, a reform of the criminal justice system including an end to the federal prohibition on marijuana and to pass a “Medicare for all” health care plan.

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