The race to represent New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District is catching fire here and nationally.
A poll last week put incumbent Rep. Anne Kuster, a first-term Democrat, behind her GOP challenger, state lawmaker Marilinda Garcia. It looks like it will be a close contest.
At 31, Marilinda Garcia would be one of the youngest members elected to the U.S. House this year. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Garcia won the GOP congressional primary last month, a large and loud crowd of millennials was in the house.
Garcia told the crowd that Democrats want to create equality of outcome.
“I think what’s made America the exceptional country it is today is that we’ve offered equality of opportunity to every American,” she said.
One campaign intern, who gave his name only as Ryan, explained his enthusiasm for Garcia:
“She’s the new generation of Republican leadership, which New Hampshire desperately needs,” he said. “She’s just for putting the power back to people that respect personal liberty.”
Young, female, of Spanish descent, Garcia isn’t the usual Republican from central casting - that is, an older white guy. National conservatives such as the Koch brothers like what they see, and they are opening their wallets to help elect her.
Big name Republicans want to be seen with her, including House Speaker John Boehner, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and, in a visit to New Hampshire last month, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“If you support the constitution and the Bill of Rights and the liberties that God gave to every single American,” Cruz said, “then vote for Marilinda Garcia.”
Yet the 2nd District hasn’t sent a hard-line conservative to Washington in 25 years, and it may not be natural terrain for her. The district went big for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and the last Republican who held the seat, Charlie Bass, barely eked out a win over Democrat Kuster in 2010.
Like many New Hampshire Republicans, Garcia stresses fiscal restraint, limited government and lower taxes. She is staunchly conservative on social issues: In the legislature, she voted to restrict abortion access and to repeal same-sex marriage.
She’s also supported the idea of impeaching President Obama. Here she is at a New Boston debate early this year.
Q: “Would you vote to impeach?”
A: “I would. .. he has many, many impeachable offenses it seems to me and his disregard for the constitution alone.”
Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, says that while the district as a whole may be tough for right-leaning candidates, Garcia’s views will resonate with the conservatives who dominate the state’s vote-rich southern towns.
“A southern-tier New Hampshire conservative looks at Marilinda Garcia and says, ‘I don’t care what the district thinks like, she thinks like me, I want a serious conservative representing the district,’ ” Scala said.
Since the primary, though, Garcia has downplayed her more ideological stances. Today, she often focuses President Obama’s agenda, which she says 2nd District voters want stopped.
"It’s the IRS scandal, it’s the aftermath of Benghazi, it’s the Veterans Administration debacle, it’s Obamacare,” she said. “It’s the effect it’s having on all aspects of our economy. And the way it was sold, on false premises.”
Garcia’s methodical approach to political issues is familiar to those who’ve worked with her during her four terms in Concord. Democratic state Rep. Peter Leishman worked closely with her on the House Finance Committee.
Marilinda’s greatest asset is just who she is. She works hard,” he said. “You meet her and you can’t help but like her. She’s very personable.”
Garcia stands her ground too, and she has been known to vote her principles over her constituents’ desires. Case in point: Garcia represents Salem, which has long sought a casino. But in the legislature, she voted against expanded gambling.
On the campaign trail, she’s occasionally left listeners confused about where she stands on some important questions, such as how to handle health care policy if, as she hopes, the Affordable Care Act’s revenue sources are eliminated.
Brian Cullen, a Nashua independent, watched her in action at a Chamber of Commerce forum last week.
“Ms. Garcia was asked a couple times, 'How do you balance the ledger? How do you balance the ledger?' And there was no answer," Cullen said. “And I think you have to have an answer…."
Cullen says Kuster’s first term hasn’t thrilled him, but he’s not convinced that Garcia is the right alternative. Polling by UNH suggests that about a third of the district’s voters have yet to make up their minds.