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Confident Republicans Gather at City Elks Lodge

Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Gary Lambert, center, listens to New Hampshire state Senator Andy Sanborn, right, at a Republican spaghetti dinner at the Lebanon Elks Club in Lebanon, N.H. on November 22, 2013. Lambert is seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Gary Lambert, center, listens to New Hampshire state Senator Andy Sanborn, right, at a Republican spaghetti dinner at the Lebanon Elks Club in Lebanon, N.H. on November 22, 2013. Lambert is seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Lebanon — An air of confidence mixed with the aroma of marinara sauce as several Republican hopefuls gunning for Granite State congressional seats in 2014 circled the wagons in the left-leaning city of Lebanon on Friday night for a spaghetti dinner.

Speakers at the Elks Lodge included former state senator Gary Lambert, a Nashua-area attorney and Marine who is running for Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster’s seat in the House, as well as Jim Rubens and Karen Testerman, both of whom are seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Virtually everyone who spoke to the crowd of 80-plus party faithful mentioned that the turnout was unexpectedly high, fueling a confidence that has grown in Republican circles since the fumbled roll-out of the HealthCare.gov website, which allows people to sign up for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Lambert, who won a seat in the state Senate in 2010 but chose not to run for re-election in 2012, said one of the reasons he can beat Kuster, a first-term representative, is his likability.

“I got people to like me,” Lambert said. “Believe me, you can talk about policy all you want. It’s about getting people to believe in you, trust you, like you, respect you and know that you’re a leader. They will vote for you even if they don’t agree on an issue.”

His ability to appeal across the aisle, Lambert said, is evidenced by his election victory in Nashua, which he described as a heavily Democratic city.

“It takes a certain type of Republican to win this district,” Lambert told the Lebanon crowd. “And I don’t mean one that’s not conservative, because I’ve got the voting record to prove it.”

Lambert noted that some of his constituents approached him after his election and said they didn’t realize how conservative he was. His response? “You didn’t ask.”

A social conservative, Lambert is opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. In an interview before the dinner, Lambert said he is running because he wants to protect the country’s middle class. He said he comes from Hope, R.I., an old mill town he described as a “place where being middle class was good.

“I understand middle-class values and what’s important to them,” he said. “I think Annie Kuster has given up on the middle class. The perfect example is Obamacare.”

Lambert said the Affordable Care Act has “taken away the 40-hour work week” by making employers cut full-time positions in favor of additional part-time positions.

Another big issue for Lambert is reforming the tax code. He said he believes in a “flat tax,” but did not identify a specific rate.

“I’m willing to negotiate the rate, but I think we ought to be able to fill out our taxes on a postcard,” Lambert said. “That’s my philosophy.”

Lambert said he also plans to run on the platform of reducing the national debt, which he said could turn the country into “a Detroit” or “a Greece.”

“I feel that it’s almost my calling here,” he said. “I’ve got to go down to D.C. and try to do something about the debt and the budget.”

As for the across-the-board federal budget sequester, however, Lambert said he disagreed with the concept, “because I know what it did to the Marine Corps.” Lambert did not identify any specific places where he would cut government spending.

“I want to get in there and I want to dig down deep and find the government waste and abuse,” he said.

So far, Lambert is the only Republican to jump in the race against Kuster. State and national Democrats are painting him as a far-right conservative.

“Gary Lambert spent his two years in office rubber-stamping (former House Speaker) Bill O’Brien’s reckless and irresponsible agenda,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein. “He made it clear that in Congress he would be an ally of the Tea Party, not working New Hampshire families, when he endorsed the forced government shutdown.”

Lambert said at the dinner that he did not endorse the shutdown strategy, although press releases from mid-October on his website show him attacking Kuster for not supporting the piecemeal funding strategy being pushed for at the time by the House Republican majority.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has tied Lambert to the shutdown strategy as well, describing him as “handpicked” by Republican House leadership and pointing out in an email that he has been highlighted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as an “on the radar” candidate.

Lambert said on Friday that he has raised $173,000 since declaring his candidacy on Sept. 4.

As for the Senate candidates, Rubens varied only slightly from the stump speech he has given at other Upper Valley events, remaining focused largely on the national debt and health care reform. He also continues to speak out against what he describes as the infringement of the Constitution by the National Security Agency and a general “lack of trust in Washington.”

Rubens paints himself as a pragmatist who can find solutions by reaching across the aisle.

“I take tough issues and deliver them over the finish line,” he said.

Testerman, a Republican activist from Franklin who ran for governor in 2010, went through a litany of issues that are more closely associated with those on the far right, such as recalling elected officials who voted for gun control measures, stopping “common core” federal education standards and further investigation into the September 2012 attack on a the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

She also spoke to the need to “secure our borders” and curb “illegal immigration.

“Our schools are overburdened with illegal immigrants, at least in California, where you can’t even ask if students are legal or not,” Testerman said. “You just have to provide them with education.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.