If anyone in politics can make impeachment and a repeal of Obamacare sound pleasant, it’s Marilinda Garcia. The New Hampshire congressional candidate speaks gently, even sweetly, whether she’s ripping into President Obama and his administration (“actively deceiving us”) or her opponent in a heated Sept. 9 primary (making “spurious claims” against her campaign). Her tone is more bedtime story than broadside.
To critics, it’s evidence that the 31-year-old is too young, too green, too unserious. But with her campaign picking up one key endorsement after another, Garcia is starting to look rather serious after all. The perception of inexperience could even play to Garcia’s advantage, as voters tire of insider politicians. And make no mistake: Despite that fresh face, Garcia has weathered her share of political trials on the statewide stage, small as it is.
The Republican establishment wasn’t initially sold on Garcia and is now playing catch-up. But she’s found support elsewhere in the meantime. One influential PAC is spending close to a million dollars on her behalf.
… a complete breakdown of trust between the governing and the governed.
— Marilinda Garcia
Nowadays, observers give her a shot at snatching the 2nd District seat in this political bellwether state, and if she does, Republican stardom would likely await her.
Garcia is diminutive and raven-haired, and though her surname might make her sound Latina, her mother is an Italian immigrant and her father is Spanish-American. She grew up in Salem, New Hampshire, and earned degrees from Tufts University, the New England Conservatory of Music — she is an accomplished harpist — and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She teaches music at several prep schools and has served almost continuously in the part-time state legislature since 2006, when she was 23. Her younger sister, Bianca, was elected, too, in 2012, but there’s no dynasty yet: In New Hampshire, the joke goes, half the population is in the statehouse at any given time.
“I was considering volunteering on a campaign after I finished college, and then someone suggested to me, ‘Why don’t you consider running yourself?’” Garcia tells OZY. “I thought, ‘That’s a good way to ensure my values are represented.’”
Those values include a libertarian-style devotion to shrinking government size and spending. Her social views are predictably conservative: anti-abortion and, on immigration, opposed to what she calls “amnesty.” Her immigration priority is border security. Tea-party boilerplate delivered, like everything else, with gentle charm.
When it comes to political candidates, Garcia is “kind of an unusual package,” says veteran D.C. political analyst Stu Rothenberg. “But let’s face it, Republicans need candidates that are in unusual packages these days.”
The packaging is the main selling point. Garcia is pitching herself as part of a new generation able to help regain voter confidence and repair what she calls “a complete breakdown of trust between the governing and the governed.” She says, “I’ve just tried to be genuine and authentic. For me, it’s not about doing or saying anything just to get elected.”
New Hampshire’s 2014 electorate is likely to “look very different and more conservative than the electorate that turned out in 2012.”
Garcia projects that. Yes, she’s got that plastered-on political grin. But she manages to be articulate without seeming slick or harsh. Asked how she’s found the leap from state-level to congressional campaigning, Garcia admits the saturation — of media coverage, fundraising demands, public scrutiny, issues to stay on top of — has been hard.
“I’d be happy to talk about any state issue at any time,” she says. But “now, all of a sudden, I need public opinions on all of these global, international affairs that I’m reading in the news like everyone else.” Winning election for New Hampshire’s volunteer legislature was comparatively simple, Garcia says: “Knocking on doors, getting people to know who you are. I didn’t have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and be on TV and that sort of thing.”
She took some hard knocks at the statehouse, though — at least a brief one. In 2008, she failed to hang on to her legislative seat in the Rockingham 4 District. That district sent the 13 top finishers to the House. Garcia finished 14th. She regained the seat shortly afterward, however, in a special election in 2009.
In appearance and pedigree, the unmarried Garcia has offered a striking contrast to her opponents. Her main primary opponent was retired Marine Gary Lambert. The one-term Democratic incumbent is Anne Kuster, a former lawyer and lobbyist. Both are in their mid-50s. Initially, the Republican establishment supported Lambert, believing him to be the more likely winner in the Democratic-leaning 2nd District., but Garcia thumped him in the September primary.
Even a very conservative candidate in a Democratic-leaning district could do well.
— Dante Scala, expert on state politics and associate professor at the University of New Hampshire
Even before that, the party was beginning to buy in. The D.C.-based National Republican Campaign Committee added Garcia to its list of promising GOP candidates over the summer, opening the possibility of advice and financial support. New Hampshire’s venerable conservative newspaper, the Union Leader, endorsed her at the beginning of August. And Latino politicians have rallied to her campaign. Former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, a Republican, headlined a fundraiser for her in June that featured prominent Hispanic GOP members. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came and rallied voters with her shortly before the primary vote.
Perhaps most significant, the influential anti-tax group Club for Growth decided to support Garcia, launching a six-figure ad buy on cable and broadcast television this summer singing her praises for opposing taxes and spending in the state legislature. And just this week, they announced they will spend $750,000 on a TV and mail campaign on her behalf. The Club’s support changed Rothenberg’s view of the race, he says. “They do their due diligence in evaluating candidates.”
Garcia is now in a dogfight with Kuster, though most polls show Kuster ahead at this point. Still, a minor scandal over unpaid taxes and general angst about the Democrats in charge in Washington make Kuster vulnerable. New Hampshire’s 2014 electorate is likely to “look very different and more conservative than the electorate that turned out in 2012 to vote for Barack Obama,” says Dante Scala, an expert on state politics and an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire. “Even a very conservative candidate in a Democratic-leaning district could do well,” he suggests.
And if that candidate is a millennial woman of Hispanic heritage? It’s a safe bet that American conservatives would swoon.
This OZY encore was originally published Aug. 9, 2014.
Why you should care
Marilinda Garcia could help broaden Republican Party appeal and move it beyond its image as the party of old white men.