Oct 19, 2014 8:57 PM
NH1 Debate Preview: Kuster and Garcia face off for first time
NH1 Political Director - NH1.com
CONCORD - In one corner: Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster.
Republicans criticize her for voting in lockstep with President Barack Obama.
In the other corner: State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, the GOP challenger.
Democrats characterize her as a tea party Republican who they say is far too extreme for New Hampshire.
With just over two weeks to go until Election Day, the two candidates in New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District face off for the first time Monday, in an NH1 debate.
Since this is the first time Kuster and Garcia have shared the same stage at the same time, there's a lot on the line in the one hour showdown at 7 p.m. on WBIN-TV.
"Stakes are high on both sides. Marilinda Garcia, the new face in this race, has an opportunity to present herself as an acceptable alternative to the status quo. Ann Kuster will do her best to make the debate all about her opponent, rather than defend her strong ties to the Obama administration," said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.
Meet the candidates
Kuster first ran for the district in 2010, narrowly losing to Republican Charlie Bass, who was running to regain his old House seat. Kuster lost to Bass by one-percentage point in a GOP wave year. Two years later, in the 2012 rematch, Kuster beat Bass by five points, underperforming President Barack Obama in the district in what was a politically friendly year for Democrats.
Kuster, 58, was born and raised in Concord. Politics runs in her family. Her mother was a state representative and her father served as mayor of Concord. She now lives in Hopkinton.
Before she first ran for Congress in 2010, Kuster spent two decades as an attorney and lobbyist with the Concord firm Rath, Young and PIgnatelli.
Garcia, 31, serves in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She was first elected to the State House in 2006 at the age of 23. Garcia, who lives in Salem and who's half Spanish-American and half Italian-American, was last year named by the Republican National Committee as a "Rising Star" in the GOP.
She was joined on the campaign trail by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a rock-star among tea party activists and other grassroots conservatives, just before last month's primary. Garcia ended up beating state Sen. Gary Lambert, a former Marine, by a larger than expected margin.
Both candidates come under attack
But Garcia's conservative views and her strong support among groups on the right has provided Democrats plenty of ammunition.
"Ted Cruz. Architect of the government shutdown. Backing Marilinda Garcia because Garcia stuck to the tea party playbook. She'd abolish the Department of Education, eliminating federal student loans," says the narrator in a recent Kuster campaign TV commercial. "Worse, Garcia would ban abortion, and even oppose the Violence Against Women Act. Marilinda Garcia: A tea party agenda that's just too extreme."
Kuster has come under attack from pro-GOP outside groups for her support of the President and of Obamacare, for her years as a lobbyist, and for being delinquent a couple of years ago in paying her property taxes.
"Life's tough when you're a lobbyist turned congresswoman Ann Kuster. Kuster has been delinquent on more than $40,000 in property taxes, including on her vacation home," says the announcer in the Garcia spot. "Annie Kuster likes spending your taxes in Washington, but doesn't like paying hers. She's out of touch with New Hampshire."
Kuster's campaign says when the issue arose, in 2013, the congresswoman quickly paid what was about $11,00 in past due bill and apologized.
Republicans have also relentlessly criticized Kuster for what they say was her refusal the past couple of years to hold any town halls, a time honored tradition in the Granite State. Late last month Kuster kicked off a tour of diners in her district.
"Annie kicked off her 30 Diners in 30 Days tour, which will take her to diners, cafes and restaurants all across the Second District to meet with voters right in their own backyards, " said an email by her campaign to supporters.
While the district slightly leans towards the Democrats, the national political climate this year favors the Republicans.
The most recent NH1 Poll by New England College, conducted on October 9, indicated Kuster with a slight three point edge over Garcia. Kuster's margin was within the poll's sampling error. In the previous NH1/NEC survey, Kuster enjoyed a double-digit lead.
According to a WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll conducted Sept. 29-Oct. 5, Garcia had a slight four point advantage over Kuster.
"Early on in the general election Representative Kuster had a fairly comfortable lead over Republican challenger Marilinda Garcia. Two recent polls suggest that that lead has dwindled to within the margins of error with one poll suggesting Garcia has taken the lead," said Wayne Lesperance, professor of political science at New England College.
"This NH1 debate is now a critical event for both. Kuster must play defense and be careful not to fuel any further erosion of her dwindling lead. Garcia must go on offense and convince voters it's time to fire the sitting Congresswoman," added Lesperance, director of the Center for Civic Engagement which includes the New England College Polling Institute.
With the race so close, it's attracted national attention, as Republicans try to build on their 17-seat advantage in the House and Democrats try to keep losses to a minimum.
According to the latest campaign finance reports, which were released Friday, Kuster outraised Garcia the past two months and had almost three-times as much cash-on-hand as Garcia as of the end of September.
But the real story has been the infusion of cash into the race by the party committees and outside groups.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the pro-Democrat Americans for Responsible Solutions have shelled out more than $2 million to attack Garcia. Meanwhile the Freedom Partners Action Fund and the Club for Growth have spent about half as much to put up ads slamming Kuster. Overall, Democratic groups have greatly outspent Republican groups in this race.
But if you take into account spending by outside groups dating back to year, pro-Republican organizations have outspent their Democratic counterparts.