Republicans tasked with keeping control of the House of Representatives released their first round of nationally backed challengers on Friday, outlining the 11 candidates they believe have the best chance of winning in the nation’s most competitive races.
The weight of the Republican Party is now on these candidates’ shoulders, given that operatives on both sides of the aisle believe that Democrats, using the national angst caused by Donald Trump’s presidency, have a good chance to take back the House in November. These candidates, now part of the so-called “Young Guns” program at the National Republican Congressional Committee, will benefit from increased access to top fundraising circles, more advice from national operatives and on-the-ground help that could be key come November.
The list includes a range of candidates, including some looking to win open seats that are currently in Republican control and others looking to flip seats currently held by Democrats.
Four of the candidates find themselves in races that CNN has rated as toss-ups, the most competitive in the country.
In California, the NRCC is backing former state Assemblywoman Young Kim, who is looking to hold retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s 39th Congressional District seat, and in Minnesota, the group is backing St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, who is trying to turn the state’s 8th Congressional District red after three terms under Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan.
The group is also backing Mark Harris, who is looking to keep North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District in Republican control after the pastor unexpectedly beat incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the primary. And in Washington state, the group is getting involved in the Republican primary and backing state Sen. Dino Rossi, who is vying to keep the state’s 8th Congressional District Republican after Rep. Dave Reichert retires.
“Our Young Guns are the cream of the crop,” NRCC Chair Steve Stivers said about the announcement. “This first round of extraordinary candidates includes men and women from diverse backgrounds across the country. I can’t wait for them to join me in Congress to fight to keep our economic comeback on track.”
Five are in races that CNN has rated as lean Democratic:
- California Board of Equalization member Diane L. Harkey is attempting to protect GOP Rep. Darrell Issa’s 49th Congressional District seat.
- Businessman Danny Tarkanian looking to replace Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running for Senate, in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.
- Former Rep. Cresent Hardy is running to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District after losing the seat to Rep. Ruben Kihuen in 2016. Kihuen announced last year that he wouldn’t see re-election after sexual harassment claims.
- Jay Webber, a New Jersey assemblyman, is trying to keep retiring GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s 11th Congressional District seat in Republican control against Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill, the Democrat in the race.
- Marty Nothstein, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Lehigh County, who is running to keep Republicans in control of retiring Rep. Charlie Dent’s Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District seat.
The NRCC also has businessman John Chrin on its “Young Guns” list, backing his effort to unseat Rep. Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District. CNN rates this race as likely Democratic.
The group is also adding former professional football player Anthony Gonzalez to the list, backing his campaign to keep Rep. Jim Renacci’s 16th Congressional District Ohio seat in Republican control. Renacci is running for the Senate and the seat is viewed as solidly Republican.
There are three stages to the “Young Guns” program, and to date the group has listed candidates as being in the “on the radar” or “contender” phases of their program. The latest additions mean each candidate is viewed as Republicans’ top-tier candidates in their most competitive races.
“I am proud to welcome each candidate to the Young Guns program to ensure they have the resources they need to win,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who founded the program during the 2007-2008 election cycle with current Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and then-Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. “I look forward to seeing them on the trail this summer and fall.”
Despite Republican arguments that they can tap into Trump’s electorate to keep the House this year, history and polling are not on their side. And Democrats are bullish that they will be able to flip the 23 needed seats to control the House.
To date, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has named 56 candidates to its Red to Blue program, an operation that provides fundraising and operations help for candidates looking to flip red districts in November. On Thursday, the DCCC added Antonio Delgado in New York and Betsy Rader in Ohio to the list.
CNN’s Terrence Burlij contributed to this report.