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Democrats Closing Fundraising Gap With Republicans

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), right, is considered an effective fundraiser. With him is Cincinnati councilman John Cranley, who is running for Congress.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), right, is considered an effective fundraiser. With him is Cincinnati councilman John Cranley, who is running for Congress. (By Al Behrman -- Associated Press)

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By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006

A surge in small, individual contributions is lifting Democratic campaigns this year and is helping close a Republican fundraising advantage that has existed for years in national politics, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Democratic House and Senate candidates and their two major campaign committees are enjoying stronger grass-roots support than at any time since the GOP took over both chambers of Congress in the 1994 elections, according to strategists from both parties who have reviewed the most recent FEC data released this spring.

At the same time, Republican campaign committees are stumbling. The Republican National Committee is lagging behind its totals from two years ago, though it continues to have a financial lead over the Democratic National Committee. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, headed by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), has raised more than $50 million this election cycle -- $6 million less than its Democratic counterpart.

On the House side, the National Republican Congressional Committee remains ahead of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But the gap is smaller than in the past, and the trends are in the Democrats' favor. The DCCC had raised 45 percent more through the end of April than it had at the same point in 2004. The NRCC, meanwhile, saw a 13 percent drop over the same period.

A similar story is unfolding in many competitive congressional races. In six of the 10 open House races -- in which incumbents are not running -- that the two leading nonpartisan political handicappers regard as up for grabs this fall, Democratic candidates are out-raising their GOP opponents, according to data analyzed by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

Meanwhile, in contrast to the past few elections, Democratic incumbents in tough races are keeping pace with at-risk Republican incumbents.

Some experts see these numbers as a potential harbinger of larger shifts in the political winds.

"It's seen as a very competitive election, and the Republicans are very concerned and the Democrats are optimistic," said Trevor Potter, a former Republican-appointed FEC chairman. "Some money is shifting to what is seen as a possibility of a Democratic win. By and large, people don't give to losers."

Cumulatively, Republicans still have more money than Democrats, but the disparities are less stark than in recent elections. At this point in the 2003-2004 cycle -- adding up money to the national parties, the congressional campaign committees and individual candidates through March 31 -- Democrats raised 69 percent of what Republicans did. So far this cycle, Democrats are raising 85 percent of what Republicans have.

Republican National Committee officials are privately expressing concern about a slowdown in some core fundraising programs over the past few months, which they attribute to a tough political climate for Republicans, party officials said. "The environment has not been exactly ideal," said one GOP official familiar with internal RNC operations.

There are some bright signs for Republicans. The RNC has far more money in the bank than the DNC -- $44.7 million to $9.4 million as of the end of April -- heading into the peak of the campaign season. The party is also likely to benefit from a summertime fundraising push by the White House.

Moreover, Republicans, who have more than twice the number of incumbents in tough races, have raised more overall for this year's entire field of competitive House races. Incumbents typically use the advantages of office to out-raise challengers.


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