PORTLAND, Maine — The National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports GOP House candidates across the country, has elevated Maine’s 2nd District Republican candidate Kevin Raye to the third tier of its high-profile Young Guns ranking while the 1st District’s Jon Courtney has yet to make the list at all.
Maine political analysts said this week the GOP’s Young Guns list is an early indication of what races the national party organizers find winnable and, more importantly, where Republican boosters will spend their money.
Both candidates are facing incumbent Democrats, with Raye squaring off against Mike Michaud and Courtney up against Chellie Pingree.
“It’s almost impossible to envision a Republican winning the 1st District House seat,” said University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer Friday. “One of the easiest ways to judge whether that’s accurate is to look at where the party money goes. If a nickel of Republican [committee] money goes into the 1st District race, I’d be stunned. On the other hand, I could see them putting money into the Raye race, because that’s a race they could conceivably win.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee describes its four-tiered Young Guns program as the “primary method for recruiting strong candidates for both open-seat and incumbent challenge elections.”
Last week, the committee, led by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, announced that Maine Senate President Raye, who is 51, had moved up to “contender” status in the Young Guns list, but made no mention of Courtney. “Contender” is the third tier of the program, with the fourth and final stage being “Young Gun” status.
“Among people who are informed enough about what campaigns are credible and organized, [the Young Guns ranking] tells me that they think at least at this juncture on paper, Kevin Raye has the pedigree and campaign infrastructure worth paying attention to,” said BDN and WCSH 6 political analyst Phil Harriman, a former GOP state lawmaker.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s seen as a credible candidate in the 2nd District, whereas … Jon Courtney almost lost his primary, which is surprising considering he had such a track record of successful elections,” he continued. “Had he come out of that primary with a roaring victory and a lot of energy and financial momentum behind him, we’d be having a different conversation.”
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Nat Sillin told the Bangor Daily News Thursday candidates are provided increasing amounts of nationwide recognition, fundraising and organizational support by the party as they meet campaign benchmarks set up in the Young Guns program.
Those benchmarks include the submission of strong financial plans and outreach strategies, as well as fundraising milestones, Sillin said.
“We are looking forward to working with Kevin Raye, who has already proven himself by meeting rigorous benchmarks in the ‘Young Guns’ program that will position his campaign for victory,” said Rep. Sessions in a statement announcing Raye’s movement on the list. “Kevin Raye’s dedication and experience positions him to advocate for pro-growth policies and fight the failed Democrat status quo in Washington. This will stand in stark contrast to the Democrats’ record of spending, borrowing and taxing that Maine families know has failed.”
Brewer said he expects major national Republican party donors to be watching the Young Guns list closely.
“If Raye moves up from ‘contender’ to ‘Young Gun,’ I think that’s an indication the national Republican machinery believes he could really win that race and make it Republican,” Brewer said. “If that happens, my guess is it would probably not only be Republican hill committee money [being spent on the 2nd District race]. But you’re not going to see American Crossroads GPS or any conservative Super PAC getting involved in the 1st District. The Koch brothers aren’t going to pump money into [Courtney's race] — they know that is a Democratic seat and that’s not going to change.”
Keith Herrick, spokesman for the Courtney campaign, said the fundraising standards are primarily what is holding the state Senate majority leader back from the Young Guns list.
As of the most recent federal campaign finance reports, Raye, who launched his campaign against Michaud in early January, had raised a total of $188,453 in the current campaign. Courtney — who did not file federal paperwork to enter the 1st District race until the end of the first quarter and did not begin heavy outreach until a public campaign launch on May 3 — had reported raising $21,621 by the most recent May 23 update.
But Herrick said Courtney is not expecting to win in November by outspending Pingree anyway — the incumbent Democrat raised $84,764 during the latest filing period and finished the period with $210,158 on hand. Pingree is also married to billionaire hedge fund investor and Democratic donor S. Donald Sussman.
Michaud carries a similar financial advantage over Raye, having raised $813,686 over his campaign by the most recent report.
“We obviously know we’re up against Chellie, and it’s a little harder to win a fundraising battle when you’re up against somebody with the resources she has,” Herrick said. “One of the key criteria for being on the Young Guns list is raising a lot of money. We’ll go out there, and we’re going to work hard fundraising, but we believe the votes of people in Maine can’t be bought. We’re going to get out, meet people and raise funds. If we ultimately reach their fundraising standards and make it into that program, that would be great. But it’s not something that’s going to make or break our campaign.”
Kathy Summers, speaking for the Raye campaign, said that while the 2nd District Republican did not set out to plan his campaign according to the Young Guns benchmarks, he welcomes the “contender” designation.
“[Young Gun program status] is one of many components that go into a successful campaign,” Summers said Friday. “We’re obviously focused on meeting with voters, talking with them about what’s important to them and getting Mainers back to work. Many of our objectives overlap with the objectives in the Young Guns program. This is recognition that Kevin and his organization are meeting the goals we set in January. We’re raising the money we set out to raise, we’re building the organization we set out to build.”
Brewer said the Young Guns “contender” listing is “an important development for Raye,” and said “it would be a mistake to write it off.”
“I would still say Michaud is still the favorite, but he’s not in the same category as Chellie Pingree,” Brewer said. “Chellie Pingree would have to do some serious self-inflicted damage to lose that race. That’s nothing against [Courtney], that’s just the [Democratic makeup of the] district. Mike Michaud’s not in that same category. This is easily Michaud’s toughest re-election campaign.”