The candidates for New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District sparred and sniped over a wide range of financial and social issues in their final debate last night.
But the matchup between incumbent Democrat Anne Kuster and GOP challenger Marilinda Garcia didn’t seem to produce any big moments that might tip the scales one way or another.
As they have all campaign long, Garcia and Kuster each portrayed the other as a political puppet. Garcia tried to tie Kuster to unpopular policies of President Obama, while Kuster characterized Garcia as a tool of the Tea Party.
But they did get into some specifics. Early on, they were asked about pay equity for women. Garcia held that it’s a non-issue, because a law has been on the books since 1963 requiring it. And, she says, a close examination of the economics reveals that women are paid fairly.
“And when you do take into account the differences in occupation, education, job tenure and hours worked you find that the wage gap all but vanishes," Garcia said.
"So I support, of course, women having equal pay, or why not more than men? But just naming legislation an equal pay act doesn’t necessarily mean that it will help.”
Kuster repeatedly called claims like that naive.
"Naive and inexperienced," she said. "I certainly have talked to thousands of women across the state who have experienced this and I’ve experienced it myself in the workforce. So I don’t think it’s something that we’re making up frankly. I know that voters feel strongly about getting paid fairly and they deserve that and their families need that.”
There were similar exchanges on other issues during the live debate on WMUR: Garcia opposes raising the minimum wage, Kuster supports it. Kuster opposes putting military “boots on the ground” to combat the ISIS movement, Garcia says all options should stay on the table. Garcia is open to the idea of term limits, Kuster opposes them.
And the women took turns criticizing each other for inattention to their legislative obligations. Garcia continued to press Kuster for failing to hold pre-announced, open forums.
“I would say it’s pretty clear that if one word characterizes Anne Kuster's time in Congress, it’s been absence," Garcia said. "She’s been absent in accessibility in New Hampshire, and absent in leadership in DC, and the lack of town halls, without a single one in her entire term is a perfect example of that.”
Kuster struck back, criticizing Garcia for missing votes in the state’s legislature.
“And it’s not just a handful of votes that Ms. Garcia missed," Kuster said. "Frankly in 2010 she missed 56 percent of the votes, and I can’t imagine why the voters would want to give her a promotion.”
Both campaigns claimed victory last night. A poll just released by the UNH survey center gives Kuster a strong lead over Garcia, among decided and undecided but leaning voters, of better than 20 percentage points, reversing the results of UNH poll taken earlier this month that showed Garcia with a slight edge.