The Gop's Gift To The Dems

-- Perhaps the Democratic National Committee should send thank-you notes to Newt Gingrich and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. They're the main reason, says the DNC, that the party has nearly dug itself out of deep debt. Legal bills in connection with the '96 fund-raising scandal left the DNC $17 million in the red last year. But as of June 30, the party says it has whittled down its debt to $3 million. DNC officials say a backlash against Capitol Hill Republicans and Starr's investigation of President Clinton has prompted party stalwarts to open their checkbooks. Says DNC spokeswoman Melissa Ratcliff: "Ken Starr and Newt Gingrich are a winning formula for the Democratic Party." Other reasons for the better bottom line: cost-cutting management reforms, a booming economy that has made contributors more generous, and Clinton's high poll ratings. Although Republicans still have a big money edge, the DNC says it'll be competitive come the fall elections.