CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Candidates competing in New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District accused each other Monday of being missing in action and ignoring constituents in favor of following party leaders.
In their first debate, Republican Marilinda Garcia criticized Democratic incumbent Annie Kuster for not holding town hall meetings, and accused her of putting President Barack Obama's agenda ahead of constituent concerns.
"When they approach her with a concern with a new regulation that's passed, or something they're having trouble dealing with ... she'll say, 'I hear your concern, but I know this is important to the Obama administration, so I have to support it,'" Garcia said. "That's not leadership."
Kuster responded that she meets with constituents every day, visiting businesses and hosting round table discussions. She described helping farmers win changes to proposed food safety regulations, and argued it's Garcia who has ignored constituents by missing about a third of the votes during her time in the state Legislature.
"Miss Garcia herself has a real record of being missing in action for her constituents," said Kuster, who argued that when Garcia did show up, she served as a rubber stamp for former Republican House Speaker Bill O'Brien.
The debate aired on WBIN-TV. Candidates in the 1st District will face each other Tuesday, followed by gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates later in the week.
Garcia sidestepped when asked to give an example of a time she disagreed with O'Brien, but described her attendance record as "wonderful" given that she often had to miss votes to work. That work history also became an issue in the debate, with Kuster criticizing Garcia for paying herself a salary to campaign. Garcia, 31, left her job as a music teacher to campaign fulltime this summer.
"If she had more life experience, maybe she'd understand," what it's like to struggle to save money for a house or college tuition, Kuster said in defending her support for raising the minimum wage. Garcia opposes raising the minimum wage, saying it would lead to businesses laying off workers.
The candidates also tangled over a Kuster campaign ad that says Garcia wants to abolish the federal Department of Education and supports banning abortion. In 2008, she voted for a bill that would have made it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion "when there is a reasonable expectation that the fetus would be viable if delivered."
"Miss Garcia's views on this are very extreme and outside the norm for New Hampshire," Kuster said.
Garcia said Kuster was distorting her position and that she never tried to ban all abortions. As for the ad, "I didn't hear her talk about a single issue that matters to New Hampshire voters," Garcia said.
"I don't know if that's something you do once you're a D.C. politician and you're out of touch with voters here in the state, or that's just her own scruples, but I think it lacks compunction and conscience," Garcia said.
Kuster said she was shocked to hear Garcia say voters don't care about the Department of Education, given that it provides grants and subsidized loans to college students.
"All across this district, middle-class families care about sending their kids to college. It's the number one issue I talk about, not just for families, but for the business community," she said.