Less than a week ahead of the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, it’s normal for Saint Anselm College to be at the center of the political scene. It’s a well-established tradition: the marquee quadrennial pre-primary debate goes down there, while legacy news outlets flock to the campus in high campaign season.
With so much political action swirling, in between presidential elections as well as in the midst of them, Saint Anselm also sees its share of protesters, though not always as unusual as the crowd outside last night’s CNN town hall.
More than 50 people gathered on the main street running through the Goffstown campus on Wednesday to protest the exclusion of US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) from the two town halls CNN is hosting this week at St. Anselm’s.
Protesters held signs that spanned a gamut of issues—most directly related to the protest (“CNN don’t tell me who to hear from”; “CNN silencing only women of color”), and at least one that read, “Search ‘Dancing Israelis,’” a reference to a 9/11 conspiracy theory the Anti-Defamation League describes as “assert[ing] that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was behind the attacks.”
Some passing cars honked in support, while inside, CNN attempted to “provide the candidates an opportunity to deliver their closing arguments to the ‘first-in-the-nation’ primary voters.” Wednesday’s lineup featured former Vice-President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and businessman Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick are booked for tonight.
Despite outpolling Yang, Steyer, and Patrick in New Hampshire, Gabbard was omitted from the CNN roster. The congresswoman is also three points ahead of Patrick in national polls, all the more reason her backers showed up at Saint Anselm.
“It’s very frustrating to see Tulsi consistently out-poll several candidates who were invited, and she has more donations than several candidates who were invited,” said one protester who identified himself as John Stewart. “She’s polling nationally better than, for instance Deval Patrick, who consistently polls at zero to one percent. And then in New Hampshire, she’s polling ahead of not only Deval Patrick but of Tom Steyer, in some cases Andrew Yang, and in a few polls Amy Klobuchar. It’s frustrating to see they were all invited.”
Two other democratic candidates, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg were not scheduled to appear.
BINJ asked CNN about the criteria used to invite candidates to a New Hampshire town hall. A spokesperson referred to a CNN story from Jan. 30, which says, “invitations will be extended to candidates who qualify to participate in the Democratic National Committee-sanctioned debate, scheduled to take place on February 7, 2020.”
Although Patrick didn’t qualify for that debate, he was “offered an opportunity to participate in a CNN New Hampshire town hall, as part of the network’s commitment to hosting individual town halls with the Democratic presidential candidates.”
At Saint Anselm, though, protesters seemed unconvinced by that argument.
“It’s just absurd,” said David Skrabal. Holding a sign that read, “CNN silencing only W.O.C. candidate,” the Portsmouth resident added, “There are three people on that stage either tonight or tomorrow night that are polling lower than her here in New Hampshire, and yet, [Gabbard] is excluded. And they made an exception for Deval Patrick. It’s clear bias. There’s no reason.”
“I’m here showing solidarity and support for a candidate who CNN is not letting speak,” said Nitya Pool, a protester wearing one of the recently-made black T-shirts the campaign was selling on site. The merch featured a black-and-white photo of Gabbard with a CNN logo duck-taped over her mouth.
As the afternoon progressed, protesters gathered around a set of microphones, ready to hear from Gabbard.
Expectations were building up, but Gabbard didn’t show up. Instead she attended a town hall across the state in Keene, according to her staff.
“I have 30,000 signatures right here asking that she should be a part of this debate, so that the American people can get to know her better and find out why she’s the one who deserves to be on that stage tonight,” the spokesperson said. “But unfortunately, she’s not going to be here.”
Gabbard’s absence, however, didn’t stop her supporters from chanting, “Let Tulsi speak! Let Tulsi speak!”
“On the eve of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States,” said Stewart, “with the ratification of the 19th amendment back in 1920, it’s unfortunate that CNN is disallowing the only woman of color still in the race from being able to participate and let her voice be heard.”
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.