Republicans Who Could Broaden the Brand Are Getting Nowhere With Their Own Party

Two unusual congressional candidates in New Hampshire seek to diversify the GOP establishment — but first they have to beat it.

National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
May 28, 2014, 4:43 p.m.

OS­SIPEE, N.H. — Mak­ing his pitch to the act­iv­ists gathered here for a meet­ing of the Car­roll County Re­pub­lic­an Com­mit­tee, Dan In­nis strikes the fa­mil­i­ar chords of an out­sider run­ning for Con­gress. He rails against taxes, reg­u­la­tions, and Obama­care, and says Wash­ing­ton needs few­er people who have “been there too long,” like his op­pon­ent, a former con­gress­man.

But In­nis is no typ­ic­al tea parti­er — he doesn’t even identi­fy with the la­bel, he says in an in­ter­view after the speech. What makes In­nis un­con­ven­tion­al is that he’s one of three openly gay Re­pub­lic­an con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates this year, and the only one in a primary con­test.

Yet at a time when the GOP says it wants to di­ver­si­fy its ranks and ex­pand its base, Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers have spurned In­nis in fa­vor of his op­pon­ent. They’ve been slow to em­brace an­oth­er can­did­ate, too — Mar­ilinda Gar­cia, a young half-Lat­ina with a de­gree from Har­vard, run­ning in the state’s oth­er con­gres­sion­al dis­trict.

So the two un­likely in­sur­gents have taken a page from the tea party and turned to out­side groups to rally sup­port.

In­nis, who owns a hotel and was, un­til re­cently, the dean of the Uni­versity of New Hamp­shire’s busi­ness school, is po­s­i­tion­ing him­self as an ac­com­plished con­ser­vat­ive whom the dis­trict’s in­de­pend­ent voters can get be­hind. And while he doesn’t men­tion that he’s mar­ried to a man in his re­marks to the GOP act­iv­ists, he hasn’t shied away from his sexu­al­ity.

“I don’t know if that’s good for Dan In­nis, but it’s good for the Re­pub­lic­an Party,” says Scott Tranchemontagne, a New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant. “I think hav­ing Dan In­nis and Mar­ilinda Gar­cia helps the Re­pub­lic­an brand and does, hope­fully, open peoples’ eyes to the fact that Re­pub­lic­ans in New Hamp­shire are a big tent.”

However, many of the party’s lead­ers have lined up be­hind former Rep. Frank Guinta. He has a for­mid­able polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tion and has out­raised In­nis 2-to-1, with about four times as much cash on hand, ac­cord­ing to the latest cam­paign fin­ance re­port.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hamp­shire’s only statewide elec­ted Re­pub­lic­an, has hos­ted a fun­draiser for Guinta, as have House big­wigs like Eric Can­tor and Kev­in Mc­Carthy. Former vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Paul Ry­an of Wis­con­sin came all the way to Manchester to sup­port Guinta. Every week, his cam­paign rolls out fresh en­dorse­ments from loc­al party of­fi­cials and act­iv­ists, more than 300 so far.

Even Richard Ti­sei, an­oth­er openly gay Re­pub­lic­an who is run­ning as a mod­er­ate next door in Mas­sachu­setts, joined a joint fun­drais­ing com­mit­tee with Guinta, who op­poses same-sex mar­riage.

In­nis says he’s been treated fairly by party lead­ers, but ac­know­ledged that Ti­sei’s move stung him. “It says to me that they’re both will­ing to com­prom­ise their val­ues for money,” he said.

Guy Har­ris­on, the former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, says the en­dorse­ments aren’t about In­nis. “They have a tried and true con­ser­vat­ive who they ac­tu­ally know. I don’t think this is a case of any­one do­ing any­thing col­lect­ively, it’s just a case of them hav­ing friend­ships,” he said.

In­stead of the party, In­nis is pin­ning his hopes on two deep-pock­eted su­per PACs, which have already pledged to spend a com­bined $1.2 mil­lion to sup­port his can­did­acy. They can help by boost­ing his name ID, since only about a quarter of the dis­trict’s voters know him. Still, he’s pop­u­lar among those who do, while Guinta’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing is in the neg­at­ives, though he’s much more widely known.

It’s a sim­il­ar story 75 miles south in Salem, where Gar­cia, a 31-year-old mem­ber of the state House, is locked in a Re­pub­lic­an primary for the right to chal­lenge Demo­crat­ic Rep. Ann McLane Kuster in the state’s oth­er con­gres­sion­al dis­trict.

Gar­cia, who was first elec­ted eight years ago at 23, gets lots of ques­tions about her age, but notes that she has more le­gis­lat­ive ex­per­i­ence than either Kuster or her Re­pub­lic­an primary op­pon­ent, a former Mar­ine and state sen­at­or named Gary Lam­bert. “Even though I’m the young un­der­dog, I’m ac­tu­ally the seni­or le­gis­lat­or of the bunch,” she says with a laugh.

The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee se­lec­ted Gar­cia, who has de­grees from Har­vard, Tufts, and the New Eng­land Con­ser­vat­ory of Mu­sic (she plays the harp), as one of its 14 “Rising Stars” last year. In March, she was fea­tured on a pan­el at the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence.

Lam­bert got in­to the race first and re­ceived an early boost from the NR­CC, which en­rolled him in the com­mit­tee’s Young Guns pro­gram and touted to the me­dia his ser­vice in Ir­aq and up-by-the-boot­straps bio­graphy.

Now that Gar­cia is in, the com­mit­tee and many Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers out­side each can­did­ate’s home bases are lay­ing low. “The NR­CC does not en­dorse can­did­ates in primar­ies,” is all spokes­wo­man An­drea Bozek said when asked about the race. Gar­cia hasn’t been in­vited to the Young Guns pro­gram, but that’s only be­cause she doesn’t have enough money to qual­i­fy yet, the com­mit­tee has said. She’s been en­cour­aged to ap­ply when she can.

“I’ve got­ten noth­ing but pos­it­ive feed­back and en­cour­age­ment,” Gar­cia says. “It’s just get­ting that sup­port to be con­crete. People look at fun­drais­ing dol­lars, people look at en­dorse­ments.”

In­stead of the party, Gar­cia’s biggest in­sti­tu­tion­al back­ing has come from the Koch-backed grass­roots con­ser­vat­ive group Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, which has poured money in­to ads at­tack­ing Kuster and helped build Gar­cia’s cam­paign. When former AFP of­fi­cials star­ted a new con­sult­ing firm that aimed to hand­pick and groom “elect­able ad­voc­ates of the free­dom and op­por­tun­ity agenda,” they chose Gar­cia as their very first cli­ent.

Des­pite be­ing an in­triguing fresh face, Gar­cia’s biggest prob­lem may be con­vin­cing people she’s not too con­ser­vat­ive for the toss-up dis­trict, says Tranchemontagne, a long­time ad­viser to the dis­trict’s former con­gress­man, Charlie Bass. “Every cycle it moves a little bit more to the Demo­crat­ic side,” Tranchemontagne ex­plained. “I see a lot of [Re­pub­lic­ans] stand­ing back and watch­ing this one.”

Demo­crats are sure to dig up con­tro­ver­sial votes Gar­cia has cast in the House, which took a hard right turn after the 2010 Re­pub­lic­an wave, to paint her as an “ul­tracon­ser­vat­ive.”

“Can­did­ates like Dan In­nis and Mar­ilinda Gar­cia might claim to be dif­fer­ent kinds of Re­pub­lic­ans, but they are pain­fully out of touch with Gran­ite State fam­il­ies,” said Demo­crat­ic state party Chair­man Ray­mond Buckley. “Their po­s­i­tions are more in line with out-of-state spe­cial in­terests than the New Hamp­shire fam­il­ies.”

In­nis, mean­while, also suf­fers from dis­ap­point­ing fun­drais­ing and or­gan­iz­ing that even $1 mil­lion worth of su­per PAC ads may not be able to over­come.

While both can­did­ates may be at a de­fi­cit at the mo­ment, they still have some time be­fore the state’s Septem­ber primary, when Re­pub­lic­an voters will have a chance to de­cide how much they value di­ver­si­fy­ing the party’s ranks.

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