Republican leaders work hard to save freshman class targeted by Dems

House Republican leaders are crisscrossing the country and raising money to help preserve their majority, a large portion of which comprises freshman members elected in the historic class of 2010.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) all have busy schedules during the usually sleepy month of August. 

Their primary focus is to reelect the first-term lawmakers being targeted by Democrats.

Earlier this year, Boehner acknowledged that there is a decent chance Democrats will take back the House, putting the odds at 1-in-3. The Speaker has since said he is feeling more optimistic.

But Democrats, boosted by impressive fundraising this cycle, say the House is in play. They are aiming to take out a slew of freshman GOP members this fall, including outspoken Reps. Joe Walsh (Ill.) and Allen West (Fla.). 

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Freshman Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), swept into the House during the red wave of 2010, told The Hill that Boehner and Cantor have raised funds for him in his new, more Democratic-leaning district. McCarthy is in the process of scheduling a trip.

“These guys are working their hearts out right now … they are literally covering the country,” Tipton said.

House Democrats need 25 seats to regain the Speaker’s gavel. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) put the chances of Democrats winning back the lower chamber at better than 50-50. 

Independent political handicappers disagree. Some, including The Hill, predict that Democrats will cut into the GOP majority, but will fall short of the 25 needed.

History is on the GOP’s side. A party with a president in the White House has not picked up 25 House seats since the landslide election of 1964.

Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said the House GOP is in a good place.

“I actually think this crop of GOP candidates that they’ve recruited may be better than last year’s, which I thought was the best I’d ever seen,” Cole said. 

Republicans hope to offset potential losses with new members, but are well aware that the fate of their majority resides with the 87 freshman members who make up more than one-third of the GOP conference.

Boehner, for example, has done events for more than two-thirds of the freshman class. 

Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Cory Gardner (Colo.) said that McCarthy wasted no time heading back to Colorado to get a jumpstart on the 2012 race. 

“If you look back at my campaign before redistricting, McCarthy was out in Colorado early last year — March — holding events for my campaign reelection. He spent the entire day in Colorado meeting with anybody that would be helpful for me to have him meet with,” Gardner recalled. 

Sources at the NRCC told The Hill that as head of the recruitment effort in 2010, McCarthy courted more than 400 candidates to run for the House. Ninety of them became members of the elite NRCC candidate assistance program known as the “Young Guns,” founded by the whip, Cantor and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.).

“Kevin, from the day he got here, was a star at recruiting, mentoring, helping candidates. Usually people do that while they’re trying to get someplace and then they quit doing it — but he’s kept doing it,” Cole said. 

McCarthy, 47, is in a unique position. As whip, he is the House Republicans’ chief vote-counter — a job that requires a lot of listening to centrist and Tea Party lawmakers. 

At the same time, the third-term lawmaker must counsel vulnerable freshman members on how to make it to a second term. 

“The guy must never sleep,” Cole said, noting how much time it takes to travel and fundraise. 

Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy have raised record-setting amounts of money to donate to the GOP congressional contenders in the 2012 cycle.

As of mid-July, Boehner topped fundraising charts, raking in nearly $80 million since becoming Speaker in 2011, according to a memo released by his political office. The prolific fundraiser transferred $20 million from his various funding committees to the NRCC. 

McCarthy’s leadership PAC contributed nearly $800,000 to more than 75 members of the historic freshman class. He has transferred more than $1 million to the NRCC.

Boehner and Cantor both have headlined more than 100 fundraisers for candidates in 20-plus states, according to data released by their respective staffs earlier this year.

Cantor has raised more than $22 million since the beginning of 2011 and transferred more than $1.5 million to the NRCC, according to data provided by Cantor’s office in June.