JEFFERSON CITY -- The campaign-finance gap between GOP Gov. Matt Blunt and Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon for next year's gubernatorial ballot has now all but vanished. But perhaps not for long. THe two confirmed this week they would return total campaign donations of $5.78 million that breached a donation limit reinstated by the Missouri Supreme Court earlier this year. Monday was the deadline for the candidates to inform the Missouri Ethics Commission whether they intend filing for hardship consideration. Nixon's campaign announced Monday it would return $1.13 million in over-the limit checks without appeal. "We ... believe that circumstances do not exist under which a candidate for Governor could in good faith request, or that the Ethics Commission could conceivably grant, a hardship in this instance," part of Nixon's statement read. Apparently taking the hint, Gov. Blunt's campaign decided to also hand back without complaint some $4.47 million in over-the-limit contributions collected since Jan. 1, the Kansas City Star later reported. A much larger share of Blunt's campaign donations topped the reimposed limit compared to Nixon's, LNL reported in September. Blunt's campaign cash lead over Nixon, who will almost certainly be unopposed as Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2008, has now shrunk from $3.3 million reported in September to $130,000, the Star confirmed. But Show-me State observers believe donations will return in similar proportions through what the Columbia Tribune referred to as "loopholes in the campaign finance system." These allow candidates to bag big checks from legislative district committees and mulitple political action committees (PACs).