The Campaign Spot

The Young Guns Come to Washington

Just returned from an NRCC event showcasing their “Young Guns,” chatting with top-tier GOP House challengers like Jackie Walorski and Larry Bucshon of Indiana, Rick Berg of North Dakota, Jim Renacci of Ohio, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, and Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Perhaps what is most striking about them comes from a comment by Walorski, that all of their stories have certain common themes: Until recent years, most never expected to run for Congress; most are watching what’s occurring in Washington in disbelief; most are from fairly conservative districts where a Democrat won in recent cycles by running against past Republican failures and pledging to govern as a moderate; and most describe the voters in their district as mad as hell.

Walorski said she knew there had been a titanic shift in the district’s politics while campaigning in recent weeks, when she experienced “senior citizens reach out and grab you, and hold on to you as they’re talking, in Democratic communities.” She said that the health-care bill was particularly worrying seniors in her district, and the economy worried everyone in her district.

I asked minority whip Eric Cantor what indicators he’s watching to get a sense of how 2010 will play out. He noted the intensity of the tea-party protests and constituents showing up at town-hall meetings across the country; the notable swing in independents since 2008; and the palpable frustration on both sides of the aisle with the sensibility that “Washington knows best.”

I also asked whether the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district, where Democrat Mark Critz won rather handily, suggested that the GOP had overestimated  its momentum this year.

“We have some work to do, and we have five months to do it,” he said, noting that the Young Guns had attracted NRCC support by meeting particular thresholds in fundraising, new media, grassroots organizing, and having various operations in place. “The benchmarks vary widely from district to district,” Cantor said, “You’re not going to need the same level of fundraising if you’re running in North Dakota’s at-large district than if you’re running in, say, southeastern Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia.”

Cantor noted that the PA-12 race was ranked about 60th on their list of competitive House races, so there is much lower-hanging fruit before the GOP in November. 

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