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Steele and RNC keep money edge but gap may narrow

The Republican National Committee under chairman Michael Steele is out-raising the Democratic National Committee, according to just-released figures for last month.

Steele's RNC raised $6.7 million in March, compared with $5.6 million for the DNC, led by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. FEC reports for the two national committees, which file monthly, are due today; the figures come from press releases issued by each party.

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The RNC was the brightest Republican fundraising story during the 2008 campaign cycle, when Republicans were otherwise out-collected at the national level by Barack Obama's record-setting fundraising operation and by Democratic House and Senate campaign committees.

In the 2007-2008 campaign, the RNC raised $427.6 million, compared with $260 million for the DNC under the leadership of Howard Dean, who never got deeply into the task of charming big bucks from the wallets of major funders.

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When Steele won the chairmanship of the RNC in January, there were doubts about his prowess as a fund-raiser, too.The party's ability to bring in money was further clouded by a mass firing at Republican national headquarters in Washington. But predictions of disaster by Steele's critics have not materialized.

Steele, Maryland's former lieutenant governor, is currently in the middle of a coast-to-coast fundraising effort that is scheduled to extend into next month.

The RNC finished March with $23.9 million in the bank and no debt. By comparison, the Democrats reported $9.8 million in cash and had $6.7 million in debt, for a net of just $3.1 million.

It is much too soon to conclude, though, that the RNC will continue to hold a big financial edge over the RNC, at least not at the level that the party enjoyed in the '07-'08 cycle.

Obvious differences include the Democrat's biggest advantage: a popular president in the White House, with proven fund-raising appeal, which his party has barely begun to exploit. Republicans, meantime, no longer have an incumbent president to stoke their cash machine.

An early sign of the steep road ahead for Steele and the RNC could be glimpsed in a comparison between last month's take by the RNC and the comparable period in the previous cycle. Looked at from that perspective, the RNC's monthly receipts fell below the $7.2 million collected in March, 2007, according to FEC figures

The deep recession is hurting the fundraising of both parties, of course. But Democrats did slightly better in March 2009 than they did in March 2007, another indicator of what Steele and the RNC will have to contend with.

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