Bronx GOP Chairman Jay Savino, who lost a contentious election battle with Democratic Sen. Jeff Klein in 2006, has decided to forgive his erstwhile foe and let him run on the GOP line in the upcoming general election.

According to Savino, Klein, who heads the four-member Independence Democratic Conference, came to the Bronx Republicans and asked for their endorsement. (Candidates who want to run on a ballot line of a party in which they are not enrolled need permission of that party’s leaders, known as a Wilson Pakula, in order to do so).

To say Savino was surprised by the request is something of an understatement:

“I almost fell on the floor,” the chairman recalled. “(Klein) came and sat with the committee and spoke to us about what he’s been doing with the IDC. He went from being one of the most disliked officials in the Bronx Republicans’ eyes to one of the more liked and respected.”

Klein filed petitions to run on four lines in the November general election: GOP, Democratic, Independence and Working Families. This is the first time he is running on Row B. He does have a Conservative opponent, Elizabeth Perri, and the Conservatives weren’t exactly thrilled to learn the Bronx Republicans had decided to throw their support behind Klein.

But after speaking to a number of candidates who wanted to run, but just “weren’t as qualified” as the Democratic senator, according to Savino, the committee members decided to “take a chance and see if we could work with him.” Savino insisted no behind-the-scenes deal was struck, and said he didn’t speak to Majority Leader Dean Skelos before deciding to back Klein.

Klein’s spokesman Eric Soufer told the Syracuse Post-Standard that the fact the senator is running on the GOP line is not an indication that he’s planning and switching his enrollment, saying Klein will “will unequivocally stay as a Democrat.” Also, according to Soufer, it was the Republicans who approached Klein and asked him to run on their line, not the other way around.

Klein was elected to the Senate in 2004 to fill the seat of former GOP Sen. Guy Velella, who lost his seat after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges.

The Republicans backed Klein’s fellow Assembly Democrat, Stephen Kaufman, who pledged to caucus with them if he was elected. But Kaufman lost both the GOP and Democratic primaries.

Klein went on to win the general election, beating Kaufman on the Conservative and Independence lines, and John Fleming, a retired police detective who coordinated security operations for former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, on the Republican line.

NOTE: This isn’t the first time the Bronx GOP has backed a Democrat. The party has also supported NYC Councilman Jimmy Vacca and Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who is again running on the Republican line this fall.