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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican Elizabeth Dole has collected $8 million for her North Carolina Senate campaign, illustrating the big-ticket fund raising at play this election year.

The GOP is ahead in the money in some contests, but trails the Democrats in others.

The North Carolina election to choose a successor to retiring Republican Sen. Jesse Helms is among races that could decide whether Democrats hold on to their Senate majority.

Dole, the GOP front-runner, is a former U.S. labor secretary and presidential candidate. She has raised double the campaign cash of top Democratic candidate Erskine Bowles, a White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, reports released Monday by the campaigns show.

Dole is reporting $729,982 more on hand than Bowles has. Although North Carolina has yet to set a primary date due to a fight over redistricting, Dole has hit the airwaves aggressively, running three across the state over the past five weeks, the only North Carolina Senate candidate to go statewide.

``It is a challenging race and people recognize that,'' Dole spokeswoman Mary Brown Brewer said. ``We aren't sitting back and taking anything for granted.''

Bowles spokeswoman Susan Lagana said money isn't everything in the race but said the Bowles campaign is pleased with what he raised. Bowles was the first Democrat to air TV ads in the state and has hit several of the state's major media markets.

``I don't think there is any doubt that Mrs. Dole was going to be able to come down to North Carolina and raise millions of dollars,'' Lagana said.

With second-quarter campaign finance reports still pouring in to election officials Monday evening, Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts appeared to have raised the most among Senate candidates on the November ballot: $12 million.

Kerry, facing no Republican challenger and considering a White House run in 2004, has nearly $3.5 million on hand and could use any money left after the election for a presidential campaign.

Other top Senate fund-raisers included Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, who drew national attention as federal investigators probed his relatinship with a contributor to his 1996 campaign. The investigation ended in January with no charges, but the Senate ethics committee continues to review the case.

Torricelli has raised more than $8.7 million as of June 30 for his re-election bid and has pledged to raise $15 million total for his race for a second term. Torricelli finished the month with nearly $6.1 million in the bank to spend.

The campaign of Torricelli's wealthy GOP opponent, Douglas Forrester, campaign reported about $2 million on hand as of June 30. Forrester has loaned his campaign $2.85 million since May 16, following a prior loan of $3.1 million. As of June 30, he had raised $106,344 from contributors.

Forrester campaign manager Bill Pascoe said the campaign is ``right where we expected to be'' and hopes to raise $10 million by Election Day.

In a race to succeed GOP Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, Republican John Cornyn had $3.8 million to spend, nearly three times the cash on hand of Democratic rival Ron Kirk. Cornyn has raised $5.8 million overall, about $1 million more than Kirk.

Among other closely watched Senate races:

_ Democratic incumbent Max Cleland of Georgia has raised $7.6 million, about $3.6 million more than his top Republican challenger, Rep. Saxby Chambliss.

_ Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Democrat, has raised $7.5 million, about $2 million more than Republican challenger Norm Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul.

_ Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri has also raised about $2 million more than her Republican opponent. Carnahan, challenged by Rep. Jim Talent, has raised about $7 million.

Control of the House is also at stake this fall as Republicans seek to maintain their majority. Among the high-profile races:

_ In a Connecticut incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchup created by redistricting, Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson has raised about $2.4 million, nearly double the total of Democratic Rep. Jim Maloney.

_ In a Pennsylvania incumbent race, Democratic Rep. Tim Holden has raised $769,374, compared to $581,940 for Republican Rep. George Gekas.

_ Mississippi Republican Rep. Chip Pickering has raised more than $1.6 million, topping Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows' $984,980.