Washington (CNN) - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele isn't predicting victory yet in the Virginia and New Jersey governor's races, but in Virginia - a race Republicans look poised to win - he sees a "blueprint" for GOP success in 2010.
"You dont win until the last vote is counted," Steele told CNN by phone during a campaign swing in southern Virginia with Republican candidate Bob McDonnell. "We failed in the past by assuming too much. The only thing I am assuming is there is much more to do."
Steele said that while Virginia and New Jersey are very different states requiring different "messaging styles," the gubernatorial races have provided the RNC with a way to "test the waters" before next year's midterm elections. He said the party has been trying out new strategies in both races "in terms of resources we put on the ground, in providing ground support or air support, on the Internet, on television, phones, things like that."
As McDonnell has surged to a lead in Virginia polls over his Democratic rival Creigh Deeds, national Republicans have described his campaign - in which he focused on job creation and downplayed his conservative positions on social issues - as a blueprint for future GOP victories. Asked what specifically in McDonnell's approach represents a way forward for the party, Steele praised the Republican for focusing on issues relevant to middle-class voters while staying true to conservative economic principles.
"If you have just lost your home, are you going to pin someone down on where they are on social issues not relevant to you getting your home back?," Steele asked. "Candidates have to understand what people are valuing at the moment. They don't need to go around and beat their chests about social issues. The liberal media would like us to do that, the Washington Post would like us to do that, but the people don't. The blueprint is one of talking about who you are and what you believe and making it relevant to people."
"All the rest of the issues take care of themselves in time," he said. "Right now America is focused on the economy."