‘Young Guns’ Ride to Rescue

Posted February 8, 2008 at 6:35pm

Moving to supplement the efforts of the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee, three Republican House Members have launched “Young Guns,” a fundraising and infrastructure program designed to aid 16 GOP candidates running in Democratic-held districts.

This effort comes at the same time House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is beefing up the fundraising capabilities of both his personal campaign and political action committees. In particular, Friends of John Boehner — Boehner’s personal re-election committee — has hired a national fundraiser with the specific aim of raising money that can be transferred in unlimited amounts to the NRCC.

Meanwhile, GOP Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.) have unveiled Young Guns, a program designed with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” in mind. Red to Blue funnels donations, provides campaign infrastructure assistance and offers strategic advice to select Democratic candidates running in GOP-held districts.

“I believe we need a greater offense,” McCarthy said Friday in an interview.

Boehner, in apparent agreement, has gone beyond expanding the fundraising arm of his personal re-election committee. On Friday, Boehner’s Freedom Project Political Action Committee unveiled a retooled Web site focused on online fundraising and grass-roots organizing — and designed to drive contributions to the House GOP’s targeted races.

Like the NRCC and its chairman, Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), Boehner is focusing his efforts on flipping many of the 60 Democratic-held districts that voted for President Bush in 2004.

“Our efforts complement the NRCC’s,” said Don Seymour, spokesman for Boehner’s PAC. “The Freedom Project’s original mission is to help Republican candidates for Congress, and this is a new way for us to do that.”

The DCCC, which this cycle has pounded the NRCC in the competition for campaign cash, suggested that Republicans are actually working to prop up the NRCC. Last year, the DCCC outraised the NRCC $67.5 million to $49.5 million, to close the year with a whopping $35.1 million to $5.4 million cash-on-hand advantage.

“Finally, Republican Members are realizing that the NRCC is not the best place to invest their resources,” DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said.

Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan named their program after the headline of a recent Weekly Standard profile that dubbed them “the Young Guns.” The article suggested that the trio might represent the kind of new blood Congressional Republicans need to lead the GOP back into the majority in the wake of last cycle’s crushing defeat.

The three Republicans unveiled Young Guns at a meeting Thursday evening that attracted more than two dozen of their House GOP colleagues. Whoever joins Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan in working the program will be assigned various tasks, according to an outline of how it is intended, which was distributed at the meeting.

Among those tasks are contributing $1,000 to each of the 16 Young Gun candidates selected to participate in the program and committing to help one of those candidiases from the time he or she is selected for the program through Election Day.

That commitment would entail hosting at least one Washington, D.C., fundraiser for that candidate, as well as traveling to the district to help the candidate campaign and advise him or her on campaign tactics.

House Republicans working the program would meet monthly for progress updates, and in addition would act as liaisons to their adopted candidates so they would know what is happening on Capitol Hill and how to incorporate what happens in Washington into their campaign message.

“We’ve got 16 seats we need to take back the majority,” Cantor said. “This program is aimed toward making sure our challengers have a connection into what’s going on in the legislative process in Washington and can call on Members for help.”

Cantor, the Chief Deputy Minority Whip, said Cole is supportive of the effort.

“Tom Cole and his entire team know exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

The 16 candidates have yet to be selected, but could include GOP challengers in both Democratic-held districts and seats where the incumbent Democrat is retiring. Potential Young Gun candidates include state Sen. Nick Jordan (R) in Kansas’ 2nd district, businessman Mike Erickson (R) in Oregon’s 5th district and the eventual winner of the GOP primary in Texas’ 23rd district.

As the leader of his party in the House, Boehner raising money for incumbent and challenger candidates is nothing new. Then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) raised millions of dollars for Republicans before him, as did then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas). Boehner’s PAC has raised money for Republicans since the mid-1990s.

But because the NRCC closed 2007 with $30 million less in cash on hand than the DCCC, Boehner’s political activities this cycle are more crucial to the House Republican Conference’s ability to maintain its current numbers — never mind expand them.

Boehner is responsible for almost 25 percent of the NRCC’s existing war chest, having transferred $845,000 to the committee last year from his Friends of John Boehner re-election account and donated $15,000 to it via his PAC.

The NRCC, perhaps recognizing that it could have an uphill climb to regain the majority in November, welcomed all the help it could get.

“Chairman Cole applauds the commitment and tireless efforts of Republican Leader Boehner, as well as the energy and leadership of Congressmen Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. “It will take a team effort to earn our way back into the majority.”