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NRCC Bullish on Its Top Recruits

The National Republican Congressional Committee will announce today that nine challenger and open-seat candidates have impressed the committee enough with their early efforts to be bumped up to the next rung of the recently retooled “Young Guns— campaign program.

Young Guns is a fundraising and infrastructure system that ranks candidates on three tiers: “On the Radar,— “Contender— and “Young Guns.— No candidate has yet achieved the program’s highest ranking, but as of today nine Republican recruits will fall into the Contender category.

Those candidates are Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby in Alabama’s 2nd district, state Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado’s 4th district, former state Rep. Dennis Ross in Florida’s 12th 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, 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.

“The early progress of these candidates is a testament to the Young Guns program and a sign of the changing political environment that Democrats will face next year,— NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said on Monday.

In a sign that the NRCC intends to continue to expand the Republican playing field in 2010, Sessions is also set to name 32 other challenger and open-seat candidates to “On the Radar— status today.

All of those candidates whom Sessions will name to Contender status are coming off successful fundraising quarters in which each raised more than $100,000 from June 1 to Sept. 30.

With $508,000 in receipts, Pearce led the group. He outraised Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) by about $255,000 despite a very respectable fundraising third quarter by the incumbent.

But Democrats said they intend to keep the NRCC from concentrating its efforts on open-seat and challenger races in 2010 by forcing Republicans to play defense next year.

“After House Democrats’ big wins over the past two cycles — 54 seats in some of the reddest districts in the country — our best defense this cycle is a strong offense,— Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer said on Monday. “After a successful summer recruiting, we have met our recruiting goal of putting 20 Republican seats in play. This success will force the Republicans to spread their resources across a large playing field.—

Rudominer pointed to the open-seat races in Illinois’ 10th district, Pennsylvania’s 6th and Delaware’s at-large seat as well as Louisiana’s 2nd district as Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities this cycle.

The Young Guns program was originally created by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and fellow GOP Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.) during the 2008 cycle before the NRCC adopted it as one of its marquee candidate-development tools earlier this year.

Candidates are named to the Young Guns program by meeting individualized benchmarks, which include developing grass-roots support, fundraising and creating a media plan. Those benchmarks become higher and more stringent with each level of the program.

“The goal is to make good candidates great,— McCarthy said Monday. “But also we send a message to the outside: ‘Here’s candidates that are emerging’— and have caught the committee’s eye.

“It’s almost like they’ve got the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval,— he added. It tells Republicans across the country: “Here’s where you want to engage and battle further.—

But just as interesting as the nine candidates who will earn Contender status are the original On the Radar candidates who will not get bumped up to the next level today.

The NRCC’s original On the Radar list released in July included Assemblyman Van Tran in California’s 47th district, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou in Hawaii’s 1st district, Air Force Capt. Adam Kinzinger in Illinois’ 11th district and businessman Jon Barela in New Mexico’s 1st district. State Assemblyman Greg Ball in New York’s 19th district and attorney David Harmer in California’s 10th district were more recent additions to the On the Radar list.

Some of those candidates had more successful fundraising third quarters than others.

Djou raised just $61,000 for the quarter but still reported about $268,000 in cash on hand for the open-seat race to replace Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who is running for governor.

Stivers, who is gearing up for a rematch with Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), edged the Congresswoman by $37,000 in third-quarter receipts.

The NRCC has already endorsed Kinzinger in his race against freshman Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.). Ross, who is running in the open-seat race in Florida’s 12th district, has also been endorsed by the committee.

Among the 32 new On the Radar candidates are several recruits whom the NRCC has been touting for months, including state Sen. Alan Nunnelee in Mississippi’s 1st district and attorney Ethan Hastert, the son of former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in Illinois’ 14th district.

But there are also a few candidates who have emerged only recently after posting impressive fundraising showings in the third quarter. Farmer and gospel singer Steve Fincher, for example, came from nowhere to top Rep. John Tanner’s (D) receipt total by $252,000 in Tennessee’s 8th district.

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