The major Republican Party campaign committees have surged ahead of their Democratic counterparts, raising four times as much money in a clear sign that the GOP is thriving under the new campaign finance law known as McCain-Feingold.

In January and February, the Republican national, senatorial and House campaign committees raised a combined $38.5 million, according to disclosure reports. The Democratic committees raised $9 million.

"This is a big advantage," said Michael Malbin, head of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. "The question now is whether the [Democrats] will have the time [to narrow the gap] now that the public's attention is not focused on politics, but on the war."

In recent years, the national party committees have played important roles in presidential and congressional elections. They help recruit candidates, poll voters, conduct opposition research, run ads and provide staff.

The McCain-Feingold law, which took effect Nov. 6, bars federal candidates and national parties from accepting "soft money," the unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals that accounted for millions of dollars of spending in recent campaigns. Partisan and neutral analysts had predicted that the change would hurt Democrats more than Republicans, but the early disparity is larger than most had expected.

In the 2001-2002 election cycle, Republicans enjoyed a 2 to 1 advantage in raising limited "hard money" -- $442 million to $217 million. Democrats raised large amounts of soft money to close much of that gap. That tool is no longer available, making hard-money collections -- in which the GOP excels -- more important than ever.

Republicans enter the 2003-04 election cycle with several advantages. The party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, and many contributors prefer to give to politicians who control the federal and congressional agendas.

In addition, President Bush has proven to be a highly effective fundraiser, substantially expanding the Republicans' donor base.

The Republican Party, much more than the Democratic Party, has built a large universe of donors in the small to middle range, who give roughly $25 to $2,000 each. An analysis of party donors in the 2000 elections compiled by Political- MoneyLine, a Web-based service, found:

* The GOP committees had 91,933 donors giving $200 to $1,000 each. The Democratic committees had 27,905.

* Among large donors -- individuals giving $10,000 or more -- the Democratic committees had an edge over the GOP committees: 4,299 to 3,869. Under the new law, donations to federal candidates are capped at $2,000, although a person can give as much as $57,000 to party organizations.

Guillermo Meneses, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said: "Clearly, Republicans have more resources than we do, but we have made long-term strategic investments that are beginning to pay off for Democrats." He was referring, among other things, to expanded direct-mail prospecting in 2001-02.

The Republican National Committee out-raised the Democratic National Committee in January and February, $21 million to nearly $5 million.

Republicans have also raised much more than Democrats for House races in 2004, although Democrats note that both parties' committees had about the same amount of cash on hand Feb. 28. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was out-raised by its GOP counterpart, $3.2 million to $1.5 million.