Mitt Romney's loss in the 2012 presidential election this month brought unexpected collateral damage on another Republican drive -- the much-touted "Young Guns" effort to bring a new crop of party stars to Washington.
The GOP's recruitment campaign was led in California by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the House majority whip, who joined Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and 2012 vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as the founders of the group touted as a new generation of conservative leaders on Capitol Hill.
Their nationwide effort, funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee, aimed to recruit and promote rising new stars in the party largely chosen for their fund-raising potential. It was billed as the best way to revive the party and cultivate new GOP legislators in California and other blue states.
But the results weren't so impressive. All but one of the Young Guns candidates in California lost, including Ricky Gill, the 25-year-old Indian American from San Joaquin County, and some longtime GOP veterans lost, including Rep. Dan Lundgren of Gold River near Sacramento, who fell to up-and-comer Ami Bera, a Democrat.
McCarthy's effort to increase the ranks of Republicans in Congress, assisted by fellow Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, ended up with just one winner: Republican David Valadao, a dairy farmer who challenged Democrat John Hernandez in the new 21st District on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley.
"If this is Kevin McCarthy's idea of resuscitation, we should all be pretty glad he's not a doctor," quipped Andy Stone, communications director of the Democratic House Majority PAC.
But Republicans, including McCarthy -- who admitted on election night that he was "depressed" by losses across the nation -- already are looking ahead.
"The Young Guns program will absolutely continue in the 2014 midterms, as will our members' and candidates' efforts to complement Young Guns by putting infrastructure and resources on the ground in places that have been without such support for quite a long time," McCarthy spokesman Mike Long said last week.
Still, McCarthy said after the Nov. 6 election that Republicans would have to make some tough assessments about where they can get the best results.
"We're going to look at it and see where we made mistakes," McCarthy told reporters.
"Kevin did the best he could with a short hand," Republican strategist Patrick Dorinson said, noting that GOP voter registration has fallen to 29 percent.
Dorinson said mentoring promising candidates such as Kim Vann, the moderate, pro-choice Colusa County supervisor who lost to incumbent Rep. John Garamendi, will help put a spotlight on future GOP stars.
Some Republicans have suggested that such candidates could get a boost if the state party, troubled by financial and leadership problems, gets a fresh start. Jim Brulte, the former Republican leader in the California Senate and Assembly, could take over as chairman in February, after current leader Tom Del Beccaro leaves.
California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton, whose party picked up six congressional seats in California in the 2012 cycle, said the Democrats' wins were directly related to issues the Young Guns failed to address.
"We had the ground game and we have the demographics," he said, adding that Latinos, Asians, youth voters and women were solidly Democratic in 2012.
Dorinson said such efforts will take time for Republicans to develop, and added that the majority party shouldn't get too comfortable.
"Democrats are getting older in this state," he said, noting that U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are in their 70s.
"The longer they stay, the more they keep down the young folks," he said. "And they'll eventually go through the same soul-searching as the Republicans are."
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE