The year of the town hall push-up contest is evidently upon us.
Former Vice President Joe Biden started it, when he challenged an 83-year-old retired farmer to do push-ups with him in the middle of an Iowa town hall last month. The farmer had said Biden was “too old for the job.” “You want to check my shape, man?” a visibly annoyed Biden asked. “Let’s do push-ups together here, man.”
The challenge was not accepted. But on Thursday night, it was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s turn at a town hall in Manchester, New Hampshire. 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.
— Jean Mackin (@JeanWMUR) January 17, 2020
The man who asked the question joined Gabbard onstage and the two got on the ground. The crowd cheered, 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 to him. (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 last two debates, has made no secret of her rigorous workout regiment. 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 and Taekwondo, tai chi and Filipino stick fighting. And on Capitol Hill, she trains under the auspices of former mixed martial arts fighter Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., 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, in 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 most recent Democratic debates, the candidate 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 Trump, for example, and in 2017 traveled to Syria to meet with Bashar al-Assad, which drew significant backlash.
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 the martial art in another video.
The videos of Gabbard’s fitness may amuse supporters, but they have also drawn criticism back home.
In October, Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele, 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.