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Democrats post big fundraising numbers for 2012 House races

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Democratic leaders raising money to be spent on the most competitive House races in next year’s elections are doing something remarkable: outraising their Republican counterparts, despite a historic drubbing a year ago that left Democrats in the minority.

House Democrats have raised $52.1 million to the Republicans’ $48.7 million. The difference is small, but it’s significant given that no minority party has been able to get such an edge in fundraising since the 1994 election cycle.

Reports released this week show that the National Republican Congressional Committee edged out the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in fundraising for October: the NRCC took in $4.5 million compared with the DCCC’s $4.1 million, not nearly enough to make up for the DCCC’s advantage. The month before, Democrats raised $6.6 million compared with $3.8 million by Republicans.

What makes the Democratic surge in fundraising so unusual is that political money tends to flow to those in power and those with momentum. In the fall of 2007, for example, a year after Republicans were kicked out of their 12-year reign in the majority, the NRCC had a negative cash balance and had raised just $40.7 million — a roughly 30 percent drop from two years earlier. Not even a year into their new power, the DCCC had pulled in nearly $57 million and had a cash balance over $27 million by the end of October 2007.

Back then, that large cash advantage for the Democrats foretold another defeat for Republicans in 2008. Now, despite winning a larger percentage of checks from K Street titans and corporate power brokers, House Republicans have not capitalized on their new majority among the grass-roots class of donors. While most political analysts predict the GOP to continue holding power after the 2012 elections, the political cash shortfall could suggest a tougher road ahead than many observers had envisioned.

The reason for the imbalance appears to be excitement in the Democratic base and an inability of the NRCC to capitalize on its return to power. The NRCC raised $27.3 million from individual donors through October, just over half the amount from the same period in 2005, when Republicans last held the House. Individual donations are coming in at a slower pace than 2007 when the party was in the minority.

The NRCC’s fundraising is up overall from the previous two cycles when the GOP was in the minority. And the committee still leads Democrats in the amount of money they’ve put in the bank for next year. Paul Lindsay, the NRCC communications director, said the committee is in a strong financial position.

“With more than three times the cash on hand that we had at this point last election cycle,” Lindsay said, “we are very confident in our ability to continue defeating House Democrats and ensuring that Nancy Pelosi never becomes speaker again.”

Republican interest groups, including major “super PACs,” appear to have a big head start on their Democratic counterparts and will probably tip the balance in spending to the favor of Republicans. Also, Republican candidates are raising 42 percent more for their campaigns than Democrats on average, meaning they’ll need less help from the party.

The big gains that Republicans made during 2010 election mean that the GOP will be on the defensive with the seats held by its 87 freshman lawmakers, many in districts won by President Obama and 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry.

The NRCC’s problem appears to be in small- and medium-size donors. The party’s major donor program is healthy: donors giving more than $10,000 at a time have contributed more so far this cycle than in the start of the previous two combined.

Republican operatives blame a lack of urgency, given that they’ve recently captured the majority in the House and grass-roots donors may have shifted their focus to the Senate and the presidency.

“The base is naturally going to be fired up when their party is not in power,” one GOP strategist said, “and right now the enthusiasm and excitement is focused against House Republicans.”

Democrats are riding a wave of support from small donors in particular. The DCCC has raised $22.6 million from donors giving less than $200 at a time through October. That’s more than double the $10 million they raised during the same period in 2005, the last time they were in the minority.

“When Republicans consistently protect billionaires over Medicare, it’s hard to convince small donors to give a check,” said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the DCCC chairman. “The Republican’s grass-roots donors have abandoned them and our grass-roots donors are more energized than they ever have been.”

The DCCC has built its e-mail list to 4.5 million people, in part by convincing supporters to recruit friends to join petitions opposing GOP plans to cut funding to Medicare and Planned Parenthood. The committee says it raised $400,000 in one day this year, with half of that coming from new donors.

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