The NRCC elevated PA12's Keith Rothfus to "Young Guns" status today, marking him as one of their best bets to challenge an incumbent Democratic congressman, in this case Mark Critz. He was one of 12 challengers nationwide placed in the category today, and was also a Young Gun in his 2010 race against Jason Altmire, which he lost by less than 2 percentage points.

Larry Sabato at UVa's Center for Politics today moved the race from "leans Democratic" to a tossup. (Cook Political Report did the same two weeks ago.) From Sabato's "Crystal Ball" report:

Rep. Mark Critz (D-PA), who won a tough member-versus-member primary against Rep. Jason Altmire, will face Keith Rothfus, who almost beat Altmire in 2010 in this re-shaped Western Pennsylvania district. We previously rated this race as leans Democratic with the thought that Altmire would win the primary, because under the new Republican-drawn Keystone State House map, the district was actually a touch bluer than Altmire's current district. However, because Critz won, this district could go either way -- Critz's current territory is several points bluer than the new PA-12, where he now must run.

UPDATE: The Critz campaign sends along the statement below:

"Regardless of what moniker the beltway Republicans give him, it won't change the fact that Keith Rothfus is an out of touch former Bush Administration official who supports trade deals that ship jobs overseas and wants to turn Medicare in to a voucher system in order to pay for even more tax cuts for millionaires like himself.

The people of Western Pennsylvania know that Mark Critz is fighting to create jobs by taking on China's unfair trade practices while standing up to those in Congress who want to privatize Social Security and end Medicare as we know it. This election will be about these important issues and Keith Rothfus is on the wrong side of every one."

KDKA-TV's Jon Delano previewed the race last night and noted Rothfus, who was redistricted out of the 12th late last year, plans to move into its borders in Sewickley within the month.

Today's full NRCC statement on Rothfus after the jump:

Washington --- The National Republican Congressional Committee today announced that Keith Rothfus has reached 'Young Gun' status, the top tier of the Committee's four-level 'Young Gun' recruitment program. Founded during the 2007-2008 election cycle by Reps. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI), the 'Young Guns' program is a Member-driven effort that is the primary method for recruiting strong candidates for both open-seat and challenger races. Rothfus is running for Pennsylvania's Twelfth Congressional District.

"Keith Rothfus has met a series of rigorous goals that will put him in position to win on Election Day," said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX). "The momentum behind his campaign is proof-positive that Pennsylvania families are fed up with President Obama and Mark Critz's policies that continue to spend too much, tax too much and borrow too much at the expense of hard-working families. Keith Rothfus is leading the pack as Republicans continue to send a loud and clear message that we will hold Democrats accountable for their unpopular partisan agenda."

The 'Young Guns' program encourages candidates who have proven their ability to meet crucial campaign benchmarks to develop their campaigns further in order to achieve victory on Election Day. In achieving 'Young Gun' status, Keith Rothfus has met organizational and fundraising benchmarks and has established himself as a strong contender. Rothfus has reached the fourth and final step by establishing a clear path to victory through his ability to build a formidable campaign structure and achieve important goals and benchmarks.

Keith Rothfus is a conservative who brings a wide range of experience and a deep commitment to his campaign for Congress. Most of Rothus' professional life has been as an attorney in the private sector, working with large and small businesses as they strive to expand and create the jobs and opportunities that will shape the future of America. He understands that more government and more regulations are preventing job growth and economic recovery. Rothfus is a citizen candidate, not a career politician, who shares his constituents' values and is not afraid to lead with those values.

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