Gabbard, 38, burst into headlines after a July 31 Democratic Party presidential debate, when she went after California Senator Kamala Harris's record as Attorney General of the State of California. The "smear campaign" refers to the bizarre avalanche of negative press that ensued, as reporters seemed to circle wagons around a Harris, a party favorite.
The Gabbard-Harris exchange was brief but revealing, as a window into a schism in the Democratic Party. Harris was elected Attorney General of California in 2010. She frequently sought moderate or even conservative positions on issues like criminal sentencing, drug enforcement, and prison labor. These stances were standard among Democrats back when being "tough on crime" was considered an essential component of the "electability" argument.
The Democratic electorate has changed, becoming especially concerned about mass incarceration. However, the party has not quite caught up. Gabbard exposed these divisions in the July 31 event, when she said:
"She put over 1500 people in jail for marijuana, and then laughed about it when asked if she ever smoked marijuana."