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Garcia goes on defense in GOP primary race debate in New Hampshire 2nd District

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CONCORD, New Hampshire — Going on the defense, Republican U.S. House hopeful Marilinda Garcia said Wednesday her primary race opponents are either ignorant or lying about immigration, health care or other issues.

The state representative from Salem faced former state Sen. Gary Lambert and former state Rep. Jim Lawrence in a debate televised on WMUR-TV heading into Tuesday's primary. The winner will face incumbent Anne Kuster, a Democrat seeking a second term in the 2nd District

During the debate, Garcia and Lawrence seized multiple chances to criticize each other's records at the Statehouse. And afterward, Garcia refused to shake hands with Lambert.

During the debate, Lawrence said such bickering makes "people sick and tired of the political process," but he readily joined in when the topic turned to immigration, echoing a Lambert campaign ad that accuses Garcia of backing amnesty for millions of people in the U.S. illegally.

The ad references a resolution Garcia signed at the 2013 National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators that said, in part, that "legalizing the undocumented population lets us know who is living within our nation's borders and allows our public safety representatives and first responders to focus time and resources on criminal elements intent on threatening our nation, citizens, freedoms, and way of life."

Garcia said she opposes amnesty and always has.

PHOTO: Former state Sen. Gary Lambert, right, reacts after State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, refused to shake his hand following a televised debate with former state Rep. Jim Lawrence at WMUR, Wednesday Sept. 3, 2014 in Manchester, N.H.  The three are seeking the Republican nomination in next week's state primary for New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Former state Sen. Gary Lambert, right, reacts after State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, refused to shake his hand following a televised debate with former state Rep. Jim Lawrence at WMUR, Wednesday Sept. 3, 2014 in Manchester, N.H. The three are seeking the Republican nomination in next week's state primary for New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

"Anybody in this country, be they illegal, be they going through the process legally, are not necessarily citizens, yet they have some sort of legal status ... because we are a nation of laws," she said. "Legal status does not mean citizenship. Amnesty and legalization are different things, and if these two gentlemen would like to remain ignorant on that issue, I suggest they do their homework."

She also said Lambert's campaign lied in an ad claiming she opposes repeal of the federal health care law. That ad referred to a Keene Sentinel article that said Garcia advocates dismantling most aspects of the law but believes repealing it entirely is no longer a viable option.

But while Lambert insisted his position differs, he said during the debate that like Garcia, he supports several provisions of the law, including allowing people to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26 and providing coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

The candidates disagreed on several issues, including how the U.S. should respond to the Islamic State group that recently killed two American journalists in Syria — James Foley of Rochester, New Hampshire; and Steven Sotloff, who once attended a New Hampshire school.

Lawrence said he does support sending U.S. troops at this time; Garcia said all options should be on the table and Lambert said he remains opposed to deploying U.S. troops under any circumstance.

"I'm the only person on this stage who was boots on the ground in Iraq," said Lambert, a retired Marine. "No more boots on the ground. It's time for the Iraqis to take their own destiny and run with it."

In a lighter moment, the three named different features of New Hampshire that they like best. Lawrence called the state's landscape one of its "greatest treasures," while Garcia mentioned its geographic diversity and four seasons. Lambert's answer also involved the outdoors, but more than just appreciating scenery. He said the best thing about the state was deer hunting.

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