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Christie-led governor's group raises $23.5 million in first-quarter 2014

By Gabriel Debenedetti

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican Governors Association, the group led by embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, raised $23.5 million in the first quarter of 2014, it will announce Thursday morning.

The fundraising total represents a major haul for the organization dedicated to supporting Republican candidates in the 36 ongoing governors' races, but it also demonstrates that Christie, the association's chair, remains a potent money magnet even after a political scandal has complicated his future.

The haul is more than twice the group's previous first-quarter record of $9.1 million raised in 2010, when then-Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, also famous for being an effective fundraiser, was in charge.

The group will also announce it has $59.6 million in cash on hand.

"RGA's strong financial position will give us the resources to push back against the public sector unions and the White House," Executive Director Phil Cox says in the press release.

Christie was widely considered a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 after winning reelection in heavily Democratic New Jersey last year. But a scandal that saw a handful of top Christie aides implicated in creating a traffic jam for apparent political payback has hit his standing in national polls and among traditional Republican power brokers since January.

Christie has nevertheless maintained his momentum as a fundraiser, bringing the RGA $33 million since taking over as chairman in November 2013.

During the first quarter of 2014, Christie took political trips, including fundraisers, to Florida, Texas, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Utah.

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; editing by Prudence Crowther)

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