The National Republican Congressional Committee unveiled its first batch of “Young Guns” candidates Thursday, signaling the races where it feels its challengers are most viable.

Each of the dozen candidates had to reach three prior levels in the program, meeting fundraising and organizing benchmarks, before being named to the top tier.

“These 12 candidates are leading the pack as Republicans continue to send a loud and clear message that we will hold Democrats accountable for their job-destroying agenda,” NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said.

Topping the list is Jesse Kelly, the GOP nominee in a June special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Kelly also picked up the support Thursday of Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), who said on Twitter that he had met with Kelly, an Iraq war veteran, and that he was the right choice for southern Arizona.

In California, Republicans Ricky Gill, David Valadao and Tony Strickland all made the list, as did Jason Plummer in Illinois and Jackie Walorski in Indiana.

Also named “Young Guns” were Matt Doheny and Randy Altschuler in New York, Keith Rothfus in Pennsylvania and Andy Barr in Kentucky. Mia Love in Utah and Richard Tisei in Massachusetts round out the list.

- This post was updated at 3:43 p.m.