John F. Kerry and the major Democratic Party committees have collectively outraised their Republican counterparts this year, blunting one of the GOP's biggest and longest-standing political advantages, new Federal Election Commission reports show.
For the first time since 1992, the Democratic candidate and the national and congressional fundraising committees combined to outraise their GOP counterparts over a six-month span of an election year, FEC data compiled by The Washington Post found. From Jan. 1 through June 30, Kerry and Democrats raised $292 million, compared with $272 million for President Bush and Republicans.
While Republicans maintain a sizable overall financial edge for this election cycle, the Democrats' across-the-board fundraising surge is providing an unexpected boost to Kerry and Democratic Senate and House candidates just as the election season intensifies.
Richard Bond, a former Republican National Committee chairman, said, "John Kerry is still in the full throes of a remarkable honeymoon. The Democratic base is energized as never before, and they are opening their wallets as never before." But, Bond contended, "this will turn into a tortoise-and-hare deal, and the Republicans will keep grinding it out and they will prevail."
Kerry, who is set to accept the Democratic presidential nomination next week in Boston, accounted for the bulk of the financial turnaround by raising $160 million in the first six months of this year, compared with Bush's $95 million. The president dramatically curtailed fundraising in early April after hitting his goal of more than $200 million for the campaign. Still, Kerry raised more in each of the past four months than Bush ever did in a single month when his fundraising machine was cranked into high gear.
What's more, the Senate Democrats' campaign committee raised more than the GOP's in the past six months, $26 million to $24 million. While House Democrats were outraised by Republicans, they bested the majority party in June for the first time this election cycle.
Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, credited heavy fundraising by House Democrats for the one-month surge but predicted the NRCC would raise more at a fundraising gala tonight featuring Bush than House Democrats did cumulatively over the past three months. Tonight's fundraiser is expected to top $22.5 million, which will be split between House and Senate Republicans. "When you look at overall cash flow, we lead in all categories," Reynolds said.
Republicans still enjoy an overall advantage in both money raised and money available to spend now through the Nov. 2 election because of their fundraising success last year. In 2003, Bush and the RNC and congressional committees raised a total of $340 million, nearly three times the $117 million raised by Kerry and the three Democratic committees. At the end of May, the Bush campaign and the GOP committees had a cash-on-hand advantage of $74 million over the Democrats.
RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson said Democrats "should see an increase in fundraising. They've invested an enormous amount of money in mail and phones in an effort to catch up to Republicans." She predicted the GOP ultimately would outraise Democrats for this election.
But scholars and the parties' strategists agree that the GOP's historical financial edge is eroding in the post-campaign-finance-reform era -- at least temporarily.
The financial shift is debunking the conventional wisdom about the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which both sides predicted would hurt Democrats who traditionally relied more heavily on the now-outlawed six- and seven-figure "soft money" checks from wealthy voters, trade unions and corporations.
Predictions of a Democratic implosion failed, however, to anticipate two related developments: First, that hostility to Bush would mobilize liberal donors as never before; and second, that the Internet would provide an easy and accessible way to make contributions by credit card.
Rep. Robert T. Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the Internet has created a "greater universe" of money than anyone imagined only a year ago. But Republicans and Democrats alike said antipathy toward Bush is driving the turnaround.
Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, said this election uniquely combines a highly polarized electorate and the prospect of a very close contests, strengthening both sides' donor bases. "The Democrats are really mobilized. Democrats are very unhappy with George W. Bush, and they are putting their money where their emotions are."
Iverson said the Democratic numbers are overblown because Bush did the bulk of his fundraising in 2003. But a top Bush fundraiser said Republican donors might not be as universally excited about the election as Democrats are: "The [Bush] campaign itself is still the best I have ever seen. It's the product that has got some problems right now."
The Democrats' fundraising surge is shaking up the campaigns. While Republicans once expected to spend the Democratic nominee into the ground, Kerry has raised enough money to match Bush dollar for dollar in many key states and media markets. When money from outside groups is factored in, Kerry and the Democrats are actually outspending Bush and Republicans in many of these areas. Democratic outside groups have outspent Republican ones by $76 million this cycle.
The races for control of the House and Senate are heavily influenced by the fundraising swing as well. Democrats, who need a net gain of two seats to win back the Senate and 11 to win back the House, are cutting into the GOP's financial edge not only at the committee level but also in the most competitive races. While winning back the House remains a long shot, the Senate is very much in play.
Roll Call newspaper, which covers Congress, reported this week that in the past three months, Democratic Senate candidates outraised their GOP opponents in seven of the 10 most competitive races.
"To the extent Democrats are animated, Republicans ought to be equally energized," said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political handicapper. "There's a very reasonable chance Bush could lose the White House, so that only raises the stakes of who controls Congress."
Researchers Brian Faler and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.