2 Unorthodox GOP Candidates Struggle for Traction

GOP mandarins say the party needs people like Dan Innis and Marilinda Garcia. Yet the establishment isn't giving the New Hampshire congressional hopefuls much help.
Marilinda Garcia at CPAC (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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 Representative 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.

Senator 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.

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Alex Seitz-Wald is a reporter for National Journal

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