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Small donors enlarge Democrats' coffers

WASHINGTON -- A surge in small, individual contributions is lifting Democratic campaigns this year and is slowing a Republican fund-raising 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 branches of Congress in the 1994 elections, according to strategists from both parties.

The strategists have reviewed the most recent Federal Election Commission data, which were released this spring.

In the meantime, Republican campaign committees are stumbling. The Republican National Committee is lagging behind its totals from two years ago, though it has a financial lead over the Democratic National Committee.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, headed by Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, raised just over $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. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had raised 45 percent more through the end of April than it had at the same point in 2004. The National Republican Campaign Committee, meanwhile, saw a 13 percent drop.

A similar story is unfolding in many 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 raising more funds than 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 see these numbers as a potential harbinger of larger shifts in the political winds.

``Some money is shifting to what is seen as a possibility of a Democratic win," said Trevor Potter, a former Republican-appointed FEC chairman. ``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.

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