Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard said de-escalating tensions with China and Russia and ending division within the United States would be among her primary focuses as president during a Provo town hall Saturday.

“The divisiveness in this country right now is tearing us apart,” Gabbard said.

Gabbard’s comments came during a weekend stop in Utah that included a town hall at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. The Democratic presidential candidate spoke at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Friday, as well as at the Pierpont Place in Salt Lake City.

Gabbard, who currently serves as a U.S. Representative for Hawaii, is a major for the Hawaii National Guard and volunteered for service during the Iraq War.

When asked about foreign policy, Gabbard said that improving the U.S.’s relationship with both China and Russia is essential for avoiding major geopolitical conflicts in the future.

“This is the greatest existential threat that we face in this country,” Gabbard said.

One attendee asked what Gabbard would do to address suicide rates in Utah and across the country.

“There’s no simple or easy answer to this,” Gabbard said. She added that increasing access to mental health care and treatment is part of the solution, as well as getting rid of the stigma around depression that makes people hesitant to talk openly about their mental health.

The Democratic candidate criticized “cancel culture” and the idea that someone could be blacklisted for saying something that other people disagree with.

Over 100 Utahns, from both sides of the political spectrum, came out to hear Gabbard speak on Saturday.

Draper resident Bill Patton is a Republican who supports President Donald Trump, but he sees Gabbard as the only Democrat he would potentially vote for.

“I think that the rest of them are plain evil, frankly,” Patton said, adding that he feels this way due to the party’s general support for late-term abortion.

“I’m here to hear her tell me how I can actually believe that she will diametrically oppose the evil of her own party and how she intends to do that,” said Patton.

Still, Patton said he is unlikely to be swayed away from voting for Trump since he believes “things have gone pretty darn well for three-plus years.”

“She could be an alternative,” he said. “But right now, it’s hard for me to not want to vote for another four years of what’s happening right now. Because it’s good. I don’t see anything bad about it.”

Brandon Ong and Taha Abdallah, both seniors at the University of Utah, have been Sanders supporters since 2016. But both felt they needed to come out and support another Democratic candidate, even if they don’t plan on voting for her.

“We’ve got to support our fellow liberals,” Abdallah said.

Ong, who is a canvasser for Sanders’ campaign, said he is a fan of a number of Gabbard’s policy proposals, including her support for Medicaid for All and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.

“I do like that she is a strong anti-interventionist,” Ong added, “and she supports a lot of the same things that Bernie does.”

Even though he volunteers on the Sanders campaign, Ong said he “think(s) it’s always good to get different viewpoints (and) to hear different candidates speak, just to broaden that worldview of yours.”

Gabbard has yet to pick up any of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, lead the field with 28 and 22 delegates, respectively, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota and former Vice President Joe Biden all have fewer than 10.

Gabbard was the first Hindu elected to be elected to Congress and the youngest person to be elected to the Hawaii state Legislature, according to Politico.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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