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CNN's blatant and bizarre Tulsi Gabbard snub

CNN has held more town hall events than any of the three cable news networks over the past few years and continues that programming strategy as we head into the meat of the 2020 campaign.

For the most part, the network has made an effort to provide every candidate on the Democratic side during the primary season with an hourlong stage to answer questions from moderators and voters alike. And that's what makes CNN's decision to snub Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHarris faces biggest moment in spotlight yet Ocasio-Cortez slams Tulsi Gabbard for amplifying ballot harvesting video Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Netflix over 'Cuties' film MORE (D-Hawaii) from a series of town halls just days before the New Hampshire primary not only odd but optically nonsensical.

Note: Gabbard is currently polling at 4.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics index of polls in New Hampshire. That puts her ahead of tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangPelosi spars with CNN's Blitzer over COVID-19 aid: 'You really don't know what you're talking about' The shape of guaranteed income Biden's latest small business outreach is just ... awful MORE (4.0 percent), businessman Tom SteyerTom SteyerLate donor surges push election spending projections to new heights New voters surge to the polls Trump leads Biden in Texas by 4 points: poll MORE (1.8 percent) and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickRalph Gants, chief justice of Massachusetts supreme court, dies at 65 It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Top Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden MORE (no polling available). 

So what do these low-polling candidates all have in common?

They all received invites to the CNN New Hampshire town hall. 

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The most recent poll from American Research Group released out of the state even has Gabbard ahead of Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharFederal appeals court rules Minnesota must separate late-arriving mail-in ballots Trump announces intention to nominate two individuals to serve as FEC members Start focusing on veterans' health before they enlist MORE (D-Minn.), with the Hawaii congresswoman clocking in at 8 percent to Klobuchar's 7 percent. 

And if we're just talking CNN-University of New Hampshire polling, Gabbard is at 5 percent, which places her 3 points higher than Steyer and 5 points higher than Patrick, who clocks in a 0.0 percent. 

"We have reached out, I think, more than once, and we received no explanation," Gabbard told Fox News on Tuesday regarding the noninvite. "I don't even think we've gotten a response to date about why they're excluding the first female combat veteran ever to run for president, the only woman of color in the race," she added. 

The candidate has also broached the snub at campaign events since. 

CNN followed up on its announcement of the New Hampshire town halls on Thursday to explain why Patrick was invited, again without mentioning Gabbard. 

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“Deval Patrick, who has not yet qualified for the February 7 debate, 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,” the spokesperson said. 

The last time Gabbard appeared on CNN during one of its special events was at a Democratic debate in Ohio in October. It was then that the Iraq War veteran addressed allegations made by The New York Times and a CNN commentator that she was an asset of the Russian government, an allegation launched (and unchallenged) by 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump may continue to campaign after Election Day if results are not finalized: report Hillicon Valley: Biden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked | Majority of voters in three swing states saw ads on social media questioning election validity: poll | Harris more often the target of online misinformation Analysis: Where the swing states stand in Trump-Biden battle MORE

“Just two days ago The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and [a Syrian President Bashar Assad] apologist and all these different smears,” she said. “This morning a CNN commentator [Bakari Sellers] said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.”  

Sellers actually called Gabbard a "puppet for the Russian government" without presenting any evidence to back up the claim. 

"There is no question, there is no question that Tulsi Gabbard, of all the 12, is a puppet for the Russian government," alleged Sellers, a former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

"There is a chance that Tulsi is not just working for the United States," he added. "That's not just an allegation."

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So what's happening here exactly? 

Does CNN really agree with Sellers that Gabbard is a puppet for Russia?

Is the network punishing Gabbard for defending herself on CNN air from baseless allegations during that debate in October? 

Are Hillary Clinton's people, likely not thrilled that Gabbard just launched a $50 million defamation lawsuit against the former secretary of State for publicly calling Gabbard a Russian asset, somehow pressuring the network not to provide her a national platform?  

The perception that some in media root for a particular candidate is nothing new. Just look back in 2016 and how the American public viewed the race between Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE and Hillary Clinton.  

A USA Today poll a month before that election showed that by a nearly 10-1 margin, American voters felt the media were rooting for Clinton over Trump. 10-to-1. That perspective includes a majority of Clinton supporters.  

The Hill, along with other news organizations, has reached out to CNN for comment as to why a candidate polling higher than three other invited candidates did not receive an invitation to one of its town halls.  

There has been no response. Perhaps because there's no plausible explanation for slighting a candidate quite as bizarrely, and blatantly, as this.

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.