NRCC wants House GOP candidates to prove their worth before pitching in

Candidates hoping for financial help from the National Republican Congressional Committee will have to prove they’re worth the investment.

The NRCC will only spend money on independent expenditure ads hitting Democrats if the Republican in the race has qualified as a top-tier member of the "Young Guns" program, a party spokesman tells The Hill.

Young Guns is a three-tiered program aimed at recruiting and improving top-notch candidates, the GOP's answer to Democrats' successful "Red to Blue" program. Candidates begin as "On the Radar" prospects before advancing to "Contenders." If they meet certain benchmarks laid out by the NRCC, they become Young Guns.

So far, nine candidates have made it to the Contender tier. Thirty-eight candidates have achieved On the Radar status. None have made it to Young Guns level.

Paul Lindsay, an NRCC spokesman, declined to specify what the benchmarks for achieving the top status are, citing a policy against discussing internal strategy. But members of the different tiers will be judged on fundraising, grassroots and communications bars they have to meet.

Membership in the Young Guns does not guarantee the NRCC will spend money in the race, but the party will not spend money for members who do not reach the highest tier. Typically, the NRCC begins its financial relationship with a candidate by spending up to $87,300 in coordinated funds before moving on to independent expenditures.

Those most likely to become eligible for independent expenditures early include ex-Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.). In 2008 Pearce gave up his seat to mount an unsuccessful Senate campaign and Chabot lost his relection bid, but both have mounted strong campaigns early in the cycle. Both are listed as Contenders.

Colorado state Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Overnight Defense: Senate rejects new FBI surveillance powers | Brexit vote looms | Push for new military aid deal with Israel Senators push vote to condemn Russia's 'reckless actions' MORE (R), running against Rep. Betsy Markey (D); Ohio state Sen. Steve Stivers (R), who lost a narrow contest to Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) in 2008; and Montgomery City Councilmember Martha RobyMartha RobyOvernight Healthcare: Momentum on mental health? | Zika bills head to conference | Only 10 ObamaCare co-ops left Trump video shows Clinton laughing over Benghazi footage Tea Party group backs challenge to House Transportation chairman MORE, running against Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.), are all in the Contender column. So are opponents campaigning against Reps. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

Former state Rep. Dennis Ross, running for the open seat created by Rep. Adam Putnam's (R-Fla.) retirement, is the only Republican running for a GOP-held seat to be added to the list so far.

The Young Guns program was founded last cycle by House Minority Whip Eric CantorEric CantorJuan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan The Trail 2016: The Big One Conservative sworn in to replace Boehner MORE (R-Va.) and Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Paul RyanPaul RyanRangel: Trump puts Ryan in tough spot Dems find voice with disruption Democrats plan 'day of action' to keep spotlight on guns MORE (R-Wis.). In the 2010 cycle, the program was morphed from an outside group to one operated within the NRCC. McCarthy, the chief deputy whip, is in charge of recruiting Republican candidates.