Buoyed in part by improved prospects in some key Senate races, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been raising money at a faster clip than its Republican counterpart over the past few months, bringing the two committees to near parity for the whole election cycle.

Not long ago, the prevailing view was that Democrats would be mortally wounded by the loss of unrestricted "soft money" donations under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. But a crash effort to raise smaller "hard money" donations, coupled with Democrats' rising optimism about their prospects for November, has paid off handsomely.

According to mid-year financial reports, the DSCC raised $15 million over the last quarter, compared with $11 million for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. For June, Senate Democrats did even better by raising $8 million, or double the $4 million raised by the GOP committee. For the whole cycle, Republicans raised $50.4 million and the Democrats pulled in $48.7 million.

Last year, especially after the announced retirement of five southern Democratic senators, the only question was how many seats the Democrats would lose, DSCC press secretary Cara Morris said. Now, with "a consistent drumbeat of good news" from states such as Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma and even some southern states, she added, Democrats are back in the game for control of the Senate. Republicans enjoy a narrow, 51-vote majority.

The downside for Democrats is that Republicans have far more in the bank for this fall's campaigns: $19.1 million compared with $13.5 million for the Democrats, in part because they paid off a $6 million debt this year.

Also, NRSC spokesman Dan Allen noted that the party will hold its big fundraiser, the President's Dinner, on July 21. The party hopes it will yield about $7 million for Senate campaigns. "We're pretty pleased with where we are, especially the money in the bank," Allen said.

Wearing of the Green

The Kerry-Edwards campaign is hoping the environment will prove to be a winning issue with swing voters, and it is launching a push this weekend aimed at motivating activists and raising funds from the green community.

Today marks "National Environmental Organizing Day," when 2,000 Kerry supporters will gather at 100 house parties in 30 states to plot electoral strategy.

"There has never been an election more important to the future of the environment," said Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Democrats are also planning to make their convention later this month in Boston the "greenest political convention in American history," organizers said. Eco-friendly aspects include the use of renewable energy sources, a carbon emissions offset program, recycling at the FleetCenter and in media work stations, and the use of hybrid pickup trucks and buses (to say nothing of confetti from recycled paper and biodegradable balloons).

Bruce Hamilton, national conservation director for the Sierra Club, praised Democratic planners yesterday for "incorporating simple measures that can protect the earth and provide a quality convention experience."

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.