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GOP Money Funk Continues

Since January, the major Democratic presidential candidates have raised more than $200 million for their campaigns, nearly double the total amount expected to be reported by their chief Republican counterparts.

The lopsided third-quarter totals — the major Democrats raised a combined $63 million between July 1 and Sept. 30, compared to roughly $33 million expected from the chief Republicans — is just the latest evidence of a fall-off in Republican giving that is eroding hopes of gains in the 2008 elections.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton posted the newest eye-catching number Tuesday, reporting $27 million raised in the third quarter alone.

For comparison, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry had raised a total of $17 million over nine months at the same point in 2003.

Beyond the presidential race, Democrats are outraising their federal opponents nearly across the board.

Their congressional committees are on top, their freshman incumbents are banking big numbers and once reliable corporate donations through political action committees are filling accounts of new Democratic chairmen.

Only the Republican National Committee has maintained its dominance over the Democratic National Committee — but even that gap is closing.

In addition to cash, the Democrats have seen an explosive expansion of their donor base. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama reports 352,000 givers, including more than 90,000 new donors to his campaign in the third quarter alone.

About 100,000 fresh faces gave money to Clinton’s campaign in the third quarter, aides report.

When combined, those two dynamics — more cash and donors — are raising the specter that, for the first time in recent history, the Republican Party and its nominee could suffer a significant financial disadvantage when next year’s races begin in earnest.

The trend illustrates the difficulty Republicans are having in reenergizing a party base demoralized by last year’s spate of scandals and losses, frustrated by this year’s debate on immigration reform and uncertain about who will emerge as the party’s presidential front-runner.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is expected to lead the Republican field in fundraising. He estimated his third-quarter total to be at or somewhat above $10 million during comments to the news media over the weekend.

If that holds true, he’d be followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is expected to report about $10 million raised and another big loan from his personal fortune that will boost his third-quarter bottom line.

Arizona Sen. John McCain is expected to report about $5 million, a sign that he has stabilized his campaign after falling from front-runner status this summer.

And the field’s newcomer, Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson’s campaign, reports that its first full fundraising quarter brought in $8 million, a sum that provides a stronger foundation to his early ranking among the race’s top competitors.

The Republicans have done a good job of expanding their donor pool, too. Based on historic trends, their cash balances are also up.

In 2003, Democrat Howard Dean was considered a fundraising phenomenon when he raised $25 million by the end of the third quarter — a figure both Romney and Giuliani have surpassed.

Likewise, McCain already has beaten Kerry’s $17 million total at the same point in 2003.

But those numbers pale in comparison with those of the Democrats, who are being propelled by a party base energized by last year’s congressional victories and showing no signs of relenting in its quest to oust Republicans.

Romney and Giuliani refrained from announcing their third-quarter totals on Tuesday after Clinton dropped her record-breaking total.

Both Clinton and Obama have raised more than $80 million in the first three quarters of this year. In the past, only President Bush — as a sitting ncumbent — matched those totals.

No party has seen two candidates record that level of giving simultaneously.

The unprecedented flow of money is all the more remarkable given the low marks even Democrats give the new Congress on its handling of the major issue of the day: the Iraq war.

Indeed, Clinton, who has been among the most cautious of the candidates in positioning herself on the war, was the only one who bucked a summer slowdown in giving experienced by the other camps.

Of her $27 million, which roughly matched her second-quarter effort, $22 million can be used in the primary; the rest must be reserved for the general election.

The third-quarter effort allowed Clinton to eke out a rare fundraising victory over Obama, who has wracked up record-breaking sums of his own.

“This is the moment when your dedication defied the skeptics,” campaign manager Patty Solis Doyle told supporters in an e-mail.

Obama’s campaign said it will log at least $19 million in receipts during the third quarter.

That’s a substantial decline from the eye-popping $33 million he raised in the second quarter but still an impressive haul during a quarter that includes slow summer months.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards raised $7 million, and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, the leader among the second-tier candidates in the Democratic field, continued to show strength by raising a just over $5 million.