Republicans are girding for a different sort of civil war in New Hampshire’s 2nd District.
Some big-name Hispanic Republicans are rallying around underdog state Rep. Marilinda Garcia over the GOP establishment pick, state Sen. Gary Lambert, in their primary fight to take on freshman Rep. Ann Kuster (D).
But that could begin to change as Hispanic heavy hitters remind the national GOP it needs to be serious by expanding its candidate pool.
Former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño (R) will headline a fundraiser for Garcia this week, which, according to an invitation obtained by The Hill, will draw donations ranging from $75 for a “young professional” to $1,000 for a host.
Co-chairmen at the Thursday event on the rooftop of the Republican State Leadership Committee include Rudy Beserra, vice president of Latin Affairs for Coca-Cola, David Olivencia, senior vice president for a technology company and a prominent figure in Hispanic politics, and Danny Vargas, a PR executive and activist.
She has 12 additional fundraising events planned for the month of June, including one hosted by Jerry Gappens, vice president of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, on June 28, which will take place on the infield of the racetrack.
Stephen Viramontes, a state director at the Bush-linked LIBRE Initiative and a member of the host committee for the Thursday fundraiser, called Garcia, 30, “a hat-trick for the GOP,” referencing the fact that she’s a female Hispanic millennia l.
“I don’t know why [the establishment] wouldn’t support her. It spits in the face of exactly what they’re trying to accomplish in reaching new pools of voters,” he said. “I know there has been a lot of criticism about her being too fringe or too conservative for that district ... but she’s essentially the GOP hat trick for outreach.”
Fortuño said he had met with Garcia and that her personal profile was just one aspect of her appeal.
“She has what I would call a stellar academic background, as well as real life experience. On top of that, she has served the people of New Hampshire in a very distinguished way. She is firm on her principles as well, those conservative principles of limited government, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and if that was not enough, she happens to be a young, well-educated woman of Hispanic descent,” he said.
“And I strongly believe that the party has to make sure there’s space for people that stick to our principles and that are able to communicate those principles to all different constituencies,” Fortuño continued.
While he said the party has “turned a corner” in its focus on diversity after the 2012 elections and touted the Republican National Committee’s efforts to reach out to Hispanics, he added that “sometimes what you may call the establishment may not get it right.”
While Republicans pledged to elect more diverse candidates to act as messengers after the 2012 race, local and national establishment actors have privately said they favor the 54-year-old Lambert, concerned that Garcia’s conservative record in the state legislature makes her a weaker general-election candidate in the Democratic-leaning swing district.
In an interview with The Hill in March, just before her appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, she put that conservatism on display, expressing opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Violence Against Women Act, an increase in the minimum wage and any gun control efforts.
On the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for women to litigate allegations of gender discrimination in the workplace, Garcia said imposing “what can somewhat be arbitrary standards of fairness ... puts the employer at a disadvantage” when it comes to hiring.
“I think we already have a more litigious society than we ought to and from the business leaders I spoke to, and employers, they said, ‘You know, this would be really destructive — we’re running out of ways to be discriminatory in a healthy way, as an employer trying to bring in actual value,’ ” she said.
Garcia said she was opposed to the Violence Against Women Act because she felt such protections were already codified in state law, and she doesn’t “believe in redundancy in policy just to make a point.”
On gun control, Garcia said that policy-makers are “too reactionary sometimes,” pointing to the push for new restrictions on gun rights in the New Hampshire House after multiple mass shootings rocked the nation.
“Clearly most of those were connected to mental health issues, so why don’t we first identify what the real problem is before we end up sort of really infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens, because that’s what seems to be happening,” she said earlier this year.
And while Garcia said increasing the minimum wage sounds like a good idea, “it doesn’t actually help anybody that much more,” and could in fact hurt.
“It actually has negative outcomes in many areas. One would be, if we’re trying to encourage people to educate themselves further so they don’t have to stay in a minimum-wage job anymore, raising [the minimum wage] lowers the incentive to do that,” she said.
Asked about those positions by The Hill on Monday, Garcia said she stood by them.
Democrats are sure to seize on those positions if she makes it to the general election in the district, which went for President Obama in the last cycle with 54 percent of the vote.
Still, Garcia has seen favorable polling. A WMUR Granite State poll from April showed her in a dead heat with Kuster, faring better than Lambert, and Fortuño said he had seen private polling that showed the same outcome, though he wouldn’t offer further details.
And Garcia herself dismissed the idea that she wouldn’t be as competitive in the general as a narrative created by Lambert.
“I’m not sure where that comes from except I believe my primary opponent — that was basically what he began to say when people got wind that I was getting into the race,” she said. “By any particular metric, it’s not true at all in that you can look at anything from the size and enthusiasm of my staff, volunteers, field organization to see my support.”
She’s not the only candidate in the primary to lay claim to minority voter appeal, however — WMUR reported Monday that Jim Lawrence, a 42-year-old former state representative, plans to throw his hat in the ring on Wednesday and will become the first African-American to run for Congress in the state.