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 GardnerTrump applauds congressional allies as he kicks off inaugural festivities Overnight Tech: Tech listens for clues at Sessions hearing | EU weighs expanding privacy rule | Senators blast Backpage execs Overnight Tech: Trump meets Alibaba founder | Uber to make some data public | GOP Lawmakers tapped for key tech panels 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 RobyTrump strikes fear into defense contractors WHIP LIST: Republicans breaking with Trump GOP women break with Trump 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 CantorRyan reelected Speaker in near-unanimous GOP vote Financial technology rules are set to change in the Trump era Trump allies warn: No compromise on immigration MORE (R-Va.) and Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Paul RyanPaul RyanHispanic Caucus members slam Trump after inaugural address When Trump says 'Make America Great Again,' he means it The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch 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.