Fundraising numbers released this week signal what could be the beginning of a new era in Capitol Hill's money wars.
Over the past four years, the National Republican Congressional Committee has toiled in the shadow of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's fundraising dominance, an advantage that arrived with the Democrats' House majority and was solidified by the Obama White House. Since 2007, the DCCC has raised, on average, $18.6 million more each year than its Republican rival, excluding loans and lines of credit.
Then came the campaign committees' recent monthly filings with the Federal Election Commission.
For the first time this year, the NRCC significantly outraised the DCCC in a month, bringing in $4.6 million to the DCCC's $3.8 million in May. The reports also confirm that the Republican committee enjoys double the cash on hand — $10.6 million to $5.3 million — than its Democratic competitor.
The cash pendulum began to swing toward the House GOP in 2010, as Republicans were headed toward historic midterm gains and retaking the House majority. But could the new numbers signal a shift back to the fundraising dominance the GOP long enjoyed before losing the House majority in 2006?
The NRCC this week was reluctant to draw too much attention to the shift, acknowledging there may be some weak months in the short term. But the committee conceded that the playing field has finally leveled.
"The NRCC is fighting in a new ball game for resources against Democrats, who will bankroll their job-crushing agenda with President [Barack] Obama and big labor interests," NRCC spokeswoman Emily Davis said. "While Democrats' cash advantage last cycle could not overcome their unpopularity with the American people, Republicans know that we must redouble our efforts and stay on offense to ensure Democrats' defeat in 2012."
And just as some Democrats downplayed the numbers as the natural result of a House majority change, other Democrats highlighted the GOP gains.
"News just broke of the Republicans' huge fundraising haul for May," DCCC Executive Director Robby Mook wrote in a fundraising appeal to supporters this week. "We can't let Tea Party Republicans and their special interest backers like the Koch Brothers gain the upper hand. Especially after the Republicans' fundraising haul, we need every committed grassroots Democrat to get involved. Contribute $3 or more today."
Republicans, too, will try to use the May numbers to their advantage.
Inside the NRCC, there is the sense that fundraising success improves its selling power with Republican investors. And it hopes to see a snowball effect as the cycle progresses that will neutralize any strategic advantage House Democrats held in years past.
Democratic fundraiser Michael Fraioli said the DCCC would likely struggle to keep up with its Republican counterpart in the near future, in part because of the aggressive fundraising push by the Obama campaign and the attention paid toward maintaining the Senate majority.
"They're going to be sucking up the money out there," he said, noting that early DCCC fundraising success this year was likely the result of going after the "love money," or those donors who are most loyal.
After the Democrats' low-hanging fruit is gone, it will become progressively harder, he said.