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GOPs battle for governor election credit

In public, Republicans are congratulating each other for Tuesday’s gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia. In private, they’re squabbling over who gets the credit.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Republican Governors Association (RGA) have drawn battle lines in the victory war, with each side claiming it pushed the party to its biggest triumph since the 2004 elections.

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The first lines were drawn last week when strategists outside of the RNC noted that under Chairman Michael Steele’s byline, the committee sent out two memoranda touting the RNC’s success — even before Tuesday’s elections.

“When I ran for chairman, I pledged that the RNC would be a full partner with states having elections in 2009. I also pledged that the RNC would invest in Republican candidates on the ballot from the courthouse to Congress in every region of the country,” Steele wrote in a memo sent out last Friday.

On Tuesday night, Steele took pains to appear at victory parties with both Bob McDonnell, the GOP’s nominee in Virginia, and Chris Christie, the candidate in New Jersey. Steele flew by private jet from Richmond, where McDonnell gave his acceptance speech, to northern New Jersey, where Christie addressed his supporters.

And in a Wednesday morning press conference, Steele repeatedly took credit for the $13 million the RNC spent on both races and the thousands of volunteer hours it donated.

“I’m so proud that the national Republican Party was able to put resources, personnel, dollars, some $13 million between these two races, on the ground, in the communities, as part of an unprecedented commitment to our candidates, our state parties,” Steele said.

But the RGA, which also spent millions on both races, signaled it has no intention of surrendering any credit.

In statements congratulating Christie and McDonnell, RGA Chairman Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, and Vice Chairman Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, praised the RGA no fewer than 10 times — without mentioning the RNC.

In New Jersey, where Christie would not have been able to spend money on television ads until Labor Day, the RGA spent $5 million on broadcast TV beginning in May, four months before Christie aired his own spots.

“The RGA knew Chris could only win by our investing significantly in this race — starting early,” Barbour said of Christie’s win.

“By focusing on the economy and taxes for more than five months, the RGA helped lay the groundwork for a Republican victory.”

Meanwhile, the RGA spent $3.3 million attacking the Democratic candidate in Virginia, including a $1.8 million independent expenditure campaign in the Washington media market highlighting state Sen. Creigh Deeds’s (D) verbal flubs — an ad campaign that many strategists said ended Deeds’s chances.

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“The RGA knew winning Virginia was essential to the rebuilding of our party,” Pawlenty said. “That’s why we invested nearly $5.5 million in this race and made it a top priority.”

Publicly, both sides insist on sharing the credit.

Steele called Barbour and other Republican governors the “real heroes” in beginning the GOP “renaissance,” while strategists close to the RGA said Steele’s support should be noticed.

Other Republicans, notably those interested in House and Senate races, are preparing for the possibility of Steele trying to take credit for congressional wins next year. So far, the RNC has given the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee $4 million each.

That’s less than the help the RNC has given in the past. In 2006, the RNC, under the direction of then-Chairman Ken Mehlman, gave the NRCC $28 million. Still, with the election a year away, the RNC is expected — by both outside analysts and GOP strategists — to give millions more to help House and Senate candidates next year.