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Dissecting Tactics of Young Guns

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (right) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy are two of the original Young Guns who launched the group in 2008.

“While we are former employees of Eric Cantor, we are building our own entity based on our own decision-making and have a rigorous way in which we go about things that are totally independent of any elected official,” Murray explained, as he sipped from a red Solo cup.

They swear by YG Action’s equation to evaluate candidates. They add up typical criteria such as age, region, the competitiveness and cost of a district. They also plug in a “conservative cause score” from the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. They include rankings from political handicappers Stu Rothenberg, a Roll Call columnist, and Charlie Cook.

In March, the super PAC spent $50,000 on radio advertisements to push freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) over the top against 10-term Rep. Don Manzullo in a redistricting-forced primary.

A month later, YG Network spent $208,000 supporting six-term Sen. Dick Lugar’s (R-Ind.) failed re-election. Lugar, an 80-year-old with a record of working across the aisle, is the antithesis of the Young Guns brand, Republicans noted.

Also in May, the nonprofit arm spent about $30,000 to boost Luke Messer, now the GOP nominee in retiring Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-Ind.) district. It sent direct mail leading up to the primary that tested new energy messaging.

“I would consider it something that helped us but not probably what we would have sent had we been doing it ourselves,” Messer said Friday.

In June, when a top 2010 Young Guns candidate, veteran Jesse Kelly, ran in a closely watched Arizona special election, YG Action and its sister entities didn’t spend a dime.

Later in June, the nonprofit ran a six-figure radio and digital advertising buy to boost 13 House Members for supporting a domestic energy bill. Democrats plan to target only a couple of those Members. The other Republicans, such as Reps. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Mike Conaway (Texas), represent solidly GOP seats.

“I just think that they lack focus as an organization. Small buys, safe seats, Lugar, etc.,” said one seasoned House Republican operative, who, like many others, declined to speak for the record. “To the extent they have been involved there have been some real head-scratchers in terms of where they have chosen to invest and how much.”

Murray said it all fits in the group’s long-range goals. It will spend the vast majority of its $30 million fundraising goal going on offense this fall targeting open seats and Democratic incumbents.

Additionally, the nonprofit has sponsored female focus groups as part of its “Women Up” initiative. Its super PAC will host a happy hour for young professionals with Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and almost two dozen other Members this week.

Those two Republicans, plus House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), are the original Young Guns who launched the group in 2008. Since then, the brand has grown and changed significantly. In 2010, the three Republicans ascended to the top of House leadership. Also, the National Republican Congressional Committee started using the Young Guns brand as its benchmark fundraising and infrastructure program for candidates. In October 2011, YG Action spun off into its own entity.

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