The challenge was not accepted. But on Thursday night, it was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s turn at a town hall in Manchester, N.H. One of her supporters questioned whether the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination from Hawaii, a 38-year-old Iraq War veteran, might be the one to defeat Biden — in push-ups. (Biden later said he was joking and “probably shouldn’t have” challenged the 83-year-old to do push-ups).
Gabbard said she would challenge anyone. And while, realistically, she has little chance of being president in 2021, she might very well win any fitness competition among the contenders.
“Former vice president Biden has randomly challenged people in the audience to a push-up contest even if they’re in walkers,” the question from the crowd began. “Do you think you could take him?”
“My educated and informed guess would be yes,” Gabbard responded to the man. “However, Joe Biden may have some superhuman push-up ability that nobody knows about. But I would take most people to a push-up challenge.”
So it began.
The man who asked the question joined Gabbard onstage, and the two got on the ground. The crowd cheered, though it was unclear for whom. But it was Gabbard who came away with the win, according to the WMUR reporter who filmed the contest. The guy collapsed, appearing somewhat exhausted, while Gabbard crawled back onto her feet and counted at him like a boxing ref in the ring.
“The dude clearly had at least 20 more in him,” one apparent skeptic wrote on Twitter.
“So did I,” Gabbard responded. (A spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment to confirm how many push-ups Gabbard actually did or could do.)
The candidate’s spontaneous fitness test should come as little surprise. Gabbard, who has not qualified for the past two debates, has made no secret of her rigorous workout regimen. Throughout the 2020 campaign, her active lifestyle has almost become a campaign ad in itself. She has surfed with her fans (in frigid New Hampshire waters). She has done CrossFit training with her supporters. And, early the morning of the first debate, she held a “team boot camp” for her campaign staffers in 90-degree Miami heat.
The videos are all over social media. The martial-arts-loving Army National Guard major has posted footage of herself doing burpees, squats, yoga, many activities with dumbbells and, yes, push-ups — in one case to the tune of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” for dramatic effect. She practices jujitsu, taekwondo, tai chi and Filipino stick fighting. And on Capitol Hill, she trains under the auspices of Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a former mixed-martial-arts fighter who leads an intimidating bipartisan workout group, Roll Call has reported.
“Those days when you don’t feel like exercising and tell yourself you’re too tired or don’t have time — just do it,” Gabbard wrote in a #MondayMotivation message on Twitter in November — a message likely to have pleased Nike. “You’ll be glad you did.”
Though she has not managed to poll high enough to qualify for the recent Democratic debates, Gabbard has tried to position herself as a palatable candidate for swing voters and has sometimes bucked the Democratic Party norm. She voted “present” on the two articles of impeachment against President Trump, for example, and in 2017 traveled to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, which drew significant criticism.
Born in American Samoa, she was raised in Hawaii by a Hindu mother and Catholic father and was exposed to a religious sect throughout her childhood, as New York magazine chronicled in a 2019 profile.
She had never left Hawaii as an adult until joining the military, the magazine reported.
In Hawaii, she became an avid surfer and also discovered Capoeira — “an amazing art created by slaves in Brazil who were training to fight and resist against their slave masters, disguising their training with music, acrobatics and dance,” she wrote while sharing another video.
I trained in different martial arts since I was a kid including Capoeira — an amazing art created by slaves in Brazil who were training to fight and resist against their slave masters, disguising their training with music, acrobatics and dance. Yesterday I joined my friends Mestre Kinha and others at Capoeira Besouro Hawai’i for their batizado ceremony and some fun! 🎥: @abrahamwilliamsdpPosted by Tulsi Gabbard on Sunday, December 9, 2018
The videos of Gabbard’s fitness routines may amuse supporters, but they have also drawn criticism back home.
In October, Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele (D), who is running for Gabbard’s congressional seat, said, “I think the people of Hawaii want to see less workout videos and hear less about regime change wars.”
Gabbard is not running for reelection.