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Young Guns’ Latest Part of NRCC Retool

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) unveiled Wednesday what he described as a “new— campaign committee that is more driven by Member participation and holds incumbents and candidates accountable for their own campaigns.

“We have gone about putting together a team and an organization that is reasonably much different than this committee has ever looked,— Sessions told reporters during his first briefing of the cycle. “The committee needed to be retuned, rehoned. We are focused on being Member-driven. We are focused on playing offense.—

Sessions made the pitch that the committee’s new incentivized “Young Guns— program and increased Member participation have helped to turn around a committee that spent most of the 2008 cycle beleaguered. Relations were visibly strained between the committee and House GOP leadership last cycle, in addition to the fact that the NRCC spent most of the cycle in financial trouble.

As part of revamping the committee, Sessions boasted that an unprecedented 96 Republican Members are now active in the committee in a way other than fundraising.

“We have had, since January and before January, an intensive organization of Members who wanted to retool this, to bring their ideas to play and to gain responsibility,— Sessions said. “Some 96 Members actively engaged in this process in the first five months of this year.—

Sessions also unveiled the Young Guns program, intended to help challenger and open-seat candidates build better campaigns, and announced that 13 candidates have been accepted into the program so far.

He also announced the NRCC’s first candidate endorsements of the cycle: Air Force Capt. Adam Kinzinger, who is running against freshman Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), and former Florida state Rep. Dennis Ross, who is running to succeed Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.).

Sessions said his committee would target 80 Democratic-held seats this cycle, with a goal of winning at least half of them and taking back the majority in the House. The Young Guns program will rank candidates on three levels: “On the Radar,— “Contender— and “Young Guns.—

The 13 candidates accepted into the program so far have achieved individualized benchmarks, including campaign infrastructure, grass-roots support, fundraising, and development of a media plan. For example, candidates must knock on a preset number of doors, raise a certain amount of money or hire some minimal staff before they can be a part of the program.

The “On the Radar— candidates include: Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby in Alabama’s 2nd district, state Assemblyman Van Tran in California’s 47th district, state Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado’s 4th district, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou in Hawaii’s 1st district, Marine Corps veteran Vaughn Ward in Idaho’s 1st district, state Sen. Andy Harris in Maryland’s 1st district, Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta in New Hampshire’s 1st district, businessman Jon Barela in New Mexico’s 1st district, former Rep. Steve Pearce in New Mexico’s 2nd district, former Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio’s 1st district and former state Sen. Steve Stivers in Ohio’s 15th district, as well as Kinzinger and Ross.

Sessions indicated that Kinzinger and Ross would be the first of perhaps many candidates that the committee could endorse in their respective primaries — a change of policy from the previous cycle when the committee was reluctant to wade into GOP contests under then-NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.).

Sessions also made it clear that multiple candidates running in the same primary can be a part of the program, but candidates who made the Young Guns level were likely to win their primary anyway. In short, Sessions called it a “carrot and stick approach— to improving the campaign of every Republican candidate.

“We’re changing this vision about a responsibility of a candidate. And that’s all Young Guns is,— Sessions said. “We’re branding a new group of people who will come up here with a different idea of what being a Member is all about.—

Sessions also touched on candidate recruitment this cycle, adding that he has planned a “road trip— during the August recess to districts where the committee has not yet found a good candidate. Sessions said GOP Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) will join him in hosting “community leader— meetings in these districts for the purpose of “interviewing potential candidates.—

Earlier this year, the NRCC announced the creation of the “Patriot— program for vulnerable incumbents who show the committee they have strong re-election campaigns. So far the committee has named 25 patriots to the program. Both the Young Guns and Patriot programs are modeled after similar efforts that House Democrats implemented in recent cycles to help them win a total of 54 seats in the 2006 and 2008 cycles.

But while imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer blasted the NRCC’s new program and their recruits so far in the 2010 cycle.

“Based on what we’ve seen so far, the only thing that the Republicans’ Young Guns program seems to be gunning for is a return to the failed days of George Bush,— Rudominer said. “Rather than work with Democrats to turn the economy around or offer any solutions, Republicans are trotting out a recruiting class filled with a bank lobbyist and several former Members who were best known for rubber-stamping the failed Bush agenda that created an economic catastrophe.—