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NRCC names first batch of 'Young Guns' candidates

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.

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Sarah Palin endorses Ted Cruz in Texas Senate race

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) endorsed Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz (R) Thursday, the latest in a recent string of endorsements from the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee.

"We're proud to join conservatives in Texas and throughout the nation in supporting your campaign to become the next senator from the Lone Star State," Palin said in a letter to Cruz released by his campaign. "Your conservative principles, passionate defense of our Constitution and our free market system come at a time when these cornerstones of our freedom and prosperity are under attack. Our shared goal isn’t just to change the majority in control of the Senate, but to assure principled conservatives like you are there to fight for us."

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OVERNIGHT BALLOT BOX: Obama endorses gay marriage

TOP STORY: An historic moment — and a political one.

President Obama on Wednesday endorsed gay marriage, becoming the first U.S. president to voice support for same sex-couples to legally marry.

And, yes, all the adjectives — historic, landmark, monumental, etc. — apply to his announcement, but it’s also an election year, and that means it’s all about the politics.

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Top social conservative worried the right may lose on gay marriage

A leading voice in the social conservative movement is worried that the tide has turned against the right on gay marriage and that President Obama's announcement could further erode their position.

Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly expressed concern when asked about the long-term effects of having a sitting president supporting gay marriage and polling that shows an increasing number of voters support same-sex marriage, especially young voters.

"What you say about the polls is correct about the younger people feeling a lot differently," she told The Hill Wednesday afternoon. "I think [Obama is] making a terrible mistake for the future of our country as well as politically."

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Dem pollster: Independents want candidates to address money in politics

Amid the rise of super-PACs and secret donors, a new poll released Wednesday found that independent voters are concerned about the influence of money in politics and are receptive to candidates who tackle the issue.

The survey from polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, Democracy Corps and the watchdog group Public Campaign Action Fund found that neither political party holds the "reform" mantle when it comes to campaign finance. Candidates who push for improving the system could win over independent voters, the poll found.

Stan Greenberg, chairman and CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and co-founder of Democracy Corps, told reporters on a conference call that voters are looking for a “reformist attack on government.” 

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