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Ad ban plan at an impasse in South Dakota Senate race

Rep. John Thune, left, and Sen. Tim Johnson have proposed a ban on ads from political parties and other groups in their U.S. Senate race in South Dakota.
Rep. John Thune, left, and Sen. Tim Johnson have proposed a ban on ads from political parties and other groups in their U.S. Senate race in South Dakota.  

By Robert Yoon
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and his GOP challenger, Rep. John Thune, have hit a roadblock in their effort to craft a plan barring political parties and outside groups from running ads this year in their U.S. Senate race in South Dakota.

The two candidates met briefly Wednesday evening, but no decision was reached, largely because they said they couldn't agree over whether a ban should extend to ads against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota's other Democratic senator.

The wrangling stems from what has become an escalating ad war waged on South Dakota's airwaves by national and state political parties and several independent political groups. At stake is a seat that could determine control of the U.S. Senate, which Democrats hold by one seat. Daschle has been the target of an increasing number of attack ads since becoming Senate majority leader in 2001.

One group, the Club for Growth, launched a $500,000 ad campaign last year, partly to inflict "collateral damage" on Johnson's re-election bid.

Under the proposals of both candidates, television, radio and print ads from political parties or outside groups would be banned during the campaign.

Johnson's proposal also bans a practice known as "push-polling," in which potential voters are telephoned and asked leading questions designed to create an unfavorable image of a particular candidate. The Johnson campaign said it has been the target of push-polling recently by unknown groups.

The Johnson campaign said Thune's proposal "doesn't go far enough" and gave him until 5 p.m. (6 p.m. EST) Friday to agree to their terms. Another meeting hasn't been scheduled.

"I'm doing the very best that I can to try to contain the negative politics and the third-party groups coming into our state," Johnson said Wednesday. "But you've got to contain the whole thing. You can't have attacks against Daschle with a wink to John saying we're really beating up on Tim Johnson."

But Thune, South Dakota's sole U.S. House member, said, "I don't happen to subscribe to the notion that everybody who criticizes Tom Daschle is criticizing Tim Johnson. I think that's a bit of a stretch."

In the past few weeks, Republicans have aired two ads. One that premiered Friday questions Johnson's commitment to national security. Democrats responded with an ad criticizing Thune for allowing negative attacks.

The ads were paid for by the candidates' political parties. Both candidates this week asked their parties to pull their commercials in South Dakota until an agreement can be reached, although Democrats say Republican ads remain on the air.

If Thune and Johnson ban ads by outside groups, the question becomes whether these organizations will adhere to such a ban and whether candidates in other states will follow suit.

Besides South Dakota, national and state parties have run attack ads in North Carolina, Minnesota, Missouri and Montana -- all of which have competitive Senate races.




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