The Republicans' senatorial campaign arm, which lagged behind other national party committees in fundraising the past two years, emerged from the Nov. 7 election in debt and is soliciting donations to get out of the red.

In an urgent appeal to donors this week, Sen.Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, the chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, beseeched contributors to "help us retire our debt."

"If we let this debt linger, it will cripple our efforts to recruit great candidates for the next election and begin our drive to win the one additional seat we need to regain the Senate majority," Dole wrote.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter, which was confirmed by NRSC spokesman Dan Ronayne. "We do have a debt, as Senator Dole noted," Ronayne said.

Ronayne would not divulge the amount of the debt. Party committees are required to file postelection financial reports with the Federal Election Commission on Dec. 7.

As of Oct. 18, the date of the last financial reports to the commission, the NRSC had $8.9 million of cash on hand. At that point in the two-year election cycle, it had raised $77.9 million and spent $70 million.

Of the six Republican and Democratic committees, however, the NRSC had been the least successful in raising contributions. Its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had raised $103.9 million by Oct. 18. According to their financial reports, Democratic senators were far more generous in contributing to the DSCC than Republican senators were in giving to Dole's committee.

In her letter, Dole said she authorized the committee to go into debt to make a last-ditch effort to win close races.

The NRSC obtained significant help from the Republican National Committee, which in the final week of the campaign targeted Senate contests in Missouri and Tennessee. In that same week, the NRSC spent more than $6 million in losing Republican efforts in New Jersey, Virginia, Montana, Maryland and Rhode Island.