Republican candidates vying for their party’s nomination in the second congressional district faced off last night on WMUR TV. The frontrunners clashed on core issues.
The hard-fought, and, at times bitter fights between Salem state rep Marilinda Garcia, and former state Senator Gary Lambert of Nashua continued last night.
On longstanding issues like illegal immigration, Lambert said Garcia "wants a pathway to citizenship, and that is amnesty in my book."
"I’d say Mr. Lambert’s book is entirely fiction," Garcia shot back.
And on fresh topics, like how far the U.S. should go to stop I.S.I.S., Garcia said all options - including ground troops - should stay on the table. But Lambert, a former Marine, drew a bright line.
"I’m the only person on this stage that was boots on the ground in Iraq," Lambert said. "I was one of those boots. No more boots on the ground. It’s time for the Iraqis to take their own destiny and run with it."
Former state representative Jim Lawrence, meanwhile, said he supported airstrikes, but opposed deploying U.S. troops.
Lawrence has run a low-budget, low-profile campaign. Last night he cast himself as a politician who cares about defeating democratic incumbent Annie Kuster, not tearing down fellow republicans.
"We’ve seen an increase of the attack ads," said Lawrence. "This is the kind of thing that makes people sick and tired of the political process. It needs to stop now. It’s not doing anyone any good."
All the candidates said government must do less. They weighed in on hot-button issues like gun rights, entitlement reform and Obamacare.
"Unfortunately we have a congresswoman right now that has voted and has said she would have voted again to defend and support Obamacare," Garcia said.
President Obama, whose popularity in New Hampshire is at an all-time low, came up throughout the hour-long debate. Congresswoman Kuster, who polls show is vulnerable, didn’t get mentioned until halfway through. When Kuster was invoked, the candidates linked her to the President.
"Ann Kuster," said Jim Lawrence, "who votes with President Barack Obama 95 percent of the time."
Poling suggests this is a tight race between Lambert and Garcia. Garcia’s candidacy is being boosted by several national conservative groups. During the debate she stressed her support from top republicans like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who will campaign with her Sunday, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Gary Lambert, meanwhile, stressed his local connections.
"She’s got most of Washington coming up to help her out," Lambert said. "I’m not getting any Washington DC money."
When asked to name the best thing about NH, Lambert cited deer hunting.
GOP voters will decide which candidate to support Tuesday. GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn has asked the Garcia and Lambert to remain positive during this race’s final week.