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Republicans are far ahead in race for funds

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That scratching noise you hear may be the sound of people writing checks payable to the Republican Party. While Democratic money pours into the bitter and costly Hart-Mondale battle, the GOP is biding its time and amassing a huge bank account. Republican Party campaign committees raised $42 million during the first quarter of this year, according to recently released Federal Election Commission records. Democratic counterparts, by contrast, gathered in $7.3 million.

''Fund raising is going tremendously well,'' says Frank Fahrenkopf, Republican National Committee chairman.

In politics, as in life, money isn't everything. If it were, John Connally - business's first choice among GOP candidates in 1980, a man on whom political-action committee money fell like rain - would be president today. The Democrats wouldn't control the House of Representatives.

The two major presidential candidates, when it comes to funds for the general election, will be in essence stock-car racers driving identical sedans. Each will wage his general election campaign with a public grant of about $40 million.

But the Republicans' cash reserves, say experts, will give the party real advantages in the fall elections:

1. They'll be able to shower funds on GOP candidates for Congress.

Federal law limits the money that parties can contribute directly to adherents running for the House and Senate. But Republicans - who spend a lot of time ''finding ways to spend more than limits allow,'' according to one academician - have in the last four years discovered other ways to pump cash into congressional campaigns.

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