Ryan touted as one of GOP's 'young guns'
Now, Ryan's "Young Guns" campaign effort is getting a boost from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the House. The committee is building on the program, launched by Ryan and two of his colleagues, in an attempt to reclaim the GOP's majority in the House.
"Before, we were outside agitators trying to create a reform wave," the Janesville Republican said of the campaign effort that he began with Reps. Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy. "Now, we've developed enough critical mass that we're developing a reform party from within the party structure, which is a big difference."
The original program helped two dozen conservative candidates running for House seats in November with campaign funding, mentoring and policy advice. Six of the candidates who went through it won -- too few to change the power structure in the House, where Democrats now have a 254-178 majority.
But supporters say the newly expanded effort can help Republicans win congressional seats -- and ultimately regain power -- in the years to come.
"This is the start of building the majority," said McCarthy, a California Republican. "When we get the majority, they'll sit back and say the Young Guns were a vital part of it."
Cantor, of Virginia, who is the No. 2 Republican in the House, said the idea behind the program was to reinvigorate the party by helping forward-thinking conservatives win congressional seats. "The Young Guns program is designed to really identify future leaders in the Republican Party with the approach they are going to come to Washington with a new direction," he said.
Pundit praised trio
Ryan, McCarthy and Cantor drew inspiration for the program from a column by Fred Barnes, who dubbed the trio "young guns" who were working to change Washington. As the congressional elections loomed, the group decided to collaborate on a project designed to help Republican candidates unseat Democratic incumbents or win congressional seats left open after retirements.
They picked 24 candidates whom they thought stood a good chance of winning in 2008 and signed on more than 50 of their House colleagues to help them with campaign cash and advice. In all, they raised $2 million for the Young Guns program, according to McCarthy.
Ryan alone gave more than $58,000 to candidates in the program through his political action committee, including $10,000 to Wisconsin candidate John Gard, according to CQ Moneyline, which tracks campaign donations.
When Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) took the helm of the National Republican Congressional Committee late last year, one of his first moves was to adopt the Young Guns program and expand it under the committee, said spokesman Paul Lindsay. "Obviously Sessions was very impressed with it," he said.
In unveiling the new program this month, House GOP leaders said they plan to help only those candidates who can meet a series of tough campaign benchmarks on such things as fund raising and hiring experienced campaign officials. Top candidates can expect campaign checks and television ads funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The effort is similar to the "Red to Blue" program by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that seeks to help Democrats running for seats held by Republicans. In 2006, the then-chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rahm Emanuel, used the program to support candidates who eventually helped Democrats take control of Congress.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," said Gabby Adler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic group. "Republicans paid a price for being out of touch with the American people and have had significant losses for two election cycles, so it is understandable they would want to take a page from our playbook."
While only a handful of their candidates won in the fall, Young Guns supporters say the odds can only get better for them next year now that the party is behind them.
"We're pushing aside people who want us to cling to the status quo and become yet again a reform party," Ryan said.
Reversing tough losses
Some of the losses for Republicans in the Young Guns program last year came in Republican-leaning congressional districts such as Wisconsin's 8th, where Gard lost against Democrat Steve Kagen, who is now serving his second term. Dean Andal, a California Republican considered one of the top GOP recruits, lost in a conservative district despite strong help from Republicans across the country.
But the Young Guns effort also recruited a few winners: Steve Austria of Ohio, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas, Pete Olson of Texas, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, Tom Rooney of Florida and Aaron Schock of Illinois. Of those, Olson, Rooney and Jenkins defeated Democratic incumbents.
In the House now, Rooney continues to see the original "young guns" as mentors. "I look to those guys not just for policy but also with regards to the future of our party, where we're going and who we want to be as a party vs. who we've been in the '90s when we won the majority but lost our way," he said.
Paulsen, who said he used Ryan as a resource on policy issues and campaign advice during his congressional race, still is learning from the Wisconsin Republican, who serves on the House Budget Committee.
Ryan briefed freshmen Republicans on the budget just last week.
Paulsen said Ryan's message to them was simple: "We need to be engaged, not just being the party of 'no' but offering alternatives."