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Who are GOP's 'Young Guns' and what do they want from Election 2010?

Many of the GOP's 'Young Guns' running for House seats see small businesses as America's economic savior – and want government to get out of their way.

By Staff writer / October 6, 2010

Veteran auto mechanic Gary Nestor (l.) and Mike Kelly of Mike Kelly Automotive stand under a car on a lift. Mr. Kelly decided to run for Congress after a GM restructuring plan threatened to close his car dealership.

Courtesy of Mike Kelly


ERIE, PA.; and Kingswood, W.Va.

Election 2010 could be a historic year and historic class for House Republicans.

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In 1974, Democrats added 75 "Watergate babies" to their ranks. In 1994, Republicans had a class of 73 Con­tract With America freshmen. This year, the GOP's "Young Guns" – 77 of its most electable challengers – are looking to retake the House and take their party in a new direction.

They are Republicans, to be sure. But they come with a drop of "tea party" flavor mixed in. They oppose big government spending and even turn their anger at the Republicans who controlled the House from 1995 to 2006. And for many, their ideas for helping a struggling economy are thoroughly grounded in the nuts and bolts of personal experiences as small-business owners. In short: Help small business and you create jobs.

The small-business doctrine is hardly alien to the GOP. But the Young Guns approach it with a particular zeal, animating their campaigns with their own horror stories about how uncertainty about new federal regulations – along with changes in the tax code – hurt their businesses.

For Mike Kelly, that moment came in May 2009, when General Motors, at the behest of the Obama administration's Auto Task Force, announced plans to shut down more than 1,900 dealerships, including Mike Kelly Chevrolet-Cadillac Inc., in Butler, Pa., founded by his father in 1953. Mr. Kelly called his lawyer, went to arbitration, and eventually got that decision reversed.

But he also took another step: He lined up a campaign staff to challenge freshman Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) in Pennsylvania's Third Congressional District. "If they can do this to Mike Kelly in Butler, Pa., they can do that to anyone," he said in an interview at a campaign stop at a German festival in Erie, Pa.

Washington has no common sense when it comes to creating private-sector jobs, he says. "Government doesn't understand the burden of creating jobs you're not going to be able to sustain," he says. "In business, you need common sense and to work hard. I work six days a week. You've got to recognize change and adjust very quickly…. In business, you fix; in government, you tax."

His plan: Cut corporate taxes, make the "death tax" go away, and cut the wage tax for six to 12 months.

At a campaign event in Erie, Kelly works the crowd as the outsider – the local businessman determined to bring his practical know-how to Washington. "I'm not really a politician; I'm a car dealer," he says. "The campaign is doing well, because the country is doing so poorly. I'd rather see the country do well."

Business credentials are a defining aspect of many Young Guns. "The vast majority of [Republican] challen­gers running this year have small-business backgrounds," says National Republican Congres­sional Com­mittee (NRCC) spokesman Paul Lindsay.

In all, some 70 Re­pub­lican small-business men – ranging from ranchers to high-tech start-up entrepreneurs – are in a race for a House seat, according to NRCC data.

But auto dealers, angered by the auto bailout launched by the Bush administration but largely implemented by the Obama administration, are on track to double their numbers in the house.