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S.D. Senate candidates propose ban on outside ads

Thune and Johnson
Thune (left) and Johnson propose banning TV ads from outside groups for the duration of their campaign.  

By Robert Yoon
CNN Washington Bureau

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota (CNN) -- Candidates in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race in South Dakota have proposed to hammer out an agreement that would prevent political parties and special interest groups from running ads designed to influence the election.

Rep. John Thune, a Republican, suggested the move in a letter Friday to his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson.

Thune and Johnson each have developed plans on the matter. Yet, while their plans have several similarities, negotiations on formalizing the ban have yet to begin.

"We can stop the negative tone now, and we can reclaim this campaign from the special interest groups who want to control the message and the election if we mutually request a ban on ads from political parties and independent groups," Thune wrote.

Johnson's campaign responded by saying Thune's plan "doesn't go far enough," and proposed a meeting Monday in Sioux Falls with top officials from both sides to hammer out the details. Thune's campaign suggested instead that the candidates meet in Washington within a week.

Discussion of a ban comes on the heels of what has become an escalating ad war waged on South Dakota's airwaves.

The hotly contested race also has national significance, given that it could tip the scales in favor of the Republicans or Democrats in the narrowly divided Senate.

In the past two weeks, Republicans have aired two ads -- one of which premiered Friday -- questioning Johnson's commitment to national security.

Democrats responded with an ad slamming Thune for allowing negative attacks and pointing out that Johnson's son is now serving in Afghanistan.

Political parties, not the campaigns, paid for all the ads.

Both campaigns propose banning television ads from political parties or outside groups for the duration of the 2002 Senate campaign.

Johnson also wants to ban similar radio and print ads, as well as a practice known as "push-polling," in which voters are called and asked leading questions aimed to create an unfavorable image of a particular candidate.

Johnson's campaign says it was recently the target of push-polling by unknown groups.

The most contentious aspect of Johnson's plan may be its ban on ads attacking South Dakota's other Democratic senator, Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Independent groups have launched numerous attacks on Daschle since he became majority leader last year.

Johnson said Daschle-related ads are intended in part to inflict "collateral damage" on his campaign.

But while Johnson's other proposals are "on the table," a Thune spokesman said a ban on ads targeting Daschle may not be realistic.

"If there was an attack ad that mentioned both Johnson and Daschle, that would part of the agreement," said Christine Iverson. "If Tom Daschle is positioning himself as a presidential candidate, then that's sort of a separate issue."

A ban on ads by outside groups is not without precedent. The two candidates for New York's open U.S. Senate seat in 2000, Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio, obtained written assurances from a number of outside groups that they would not run ads related to the race.

"This is the simplest way to confine a campaign to the message of the two candidates," said Iverson. "The two campaigns are totally responsible for the message that's out there, and they control that message. That's the way it should be."




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