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The Daily Tar Heel

Race for Helms' Senate Seat Already Heating Up

At least a dozen candidates from both parties have already filed to run for the seat, including Republican Elizabeth Dole and Democrats Dan Blue, Erskine Bowles and Elaine Marshall, and the race for the seat already has turned heated.

The N.C. Democratic Party recently began funding an advertisement criticizing Dole for accepting contributions from former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay on Sept. 20.

At the time, Dole said all funding activities were suspended in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Soon after, the Republicans began running counter-ads criticizing the Democrats for attacking Dole's patriotism. Dole returned the money she received from Lay before the Democratic ads aired.

Thad Beyle, a UNC political science professor, said he doubts the Democratic ads will have much effect.

"She has clearly won the primary," Beyle said. "She doesn't have strong opponents. So, she is the target."

Beyle said the Democrats were targeting Dole because she is the leading Republican candidate for the seat and that the early attack ads will alienate voters.

"The election is not starting out very well," he said.

But Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC's Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life, said the 2002 race would likely not be as heated as past Senate races.

Guillory said the 1984 race between Helms and former Gov. Jim Hunt marked an extreme case of political feuding. "Senator Helms' campaigns, his 1984 race against Jim Hunt in particular, raised the bar for attack politics," Guillory said. "Other campaigns have emulated it, but whether the 2002 campaign will reach the level of the 1984 is doubtful."

Guillory said political campaigns normally start with a focus on issues, with few or no attack ads, but he added that attack ads are a part of politics.

"American politics is kind of a contact sport," he said. "It's within the bounds for one campaign to attack the other."

Guillory said voters have come to distrust candidates' concern with the issues.

"Voters have grown increasingly distrustful about campaign dialogue, and we certainly need more debate and less yelling," he said. "Voters are worried about basic instability running amok."

Guillory said the media, specifically television stations, should try to negate the attack campaigns.

"The television stations have a responsibility here," Guillory said. "In the 2000 campaign, WRAL gave the candidates time to speak directly to the voters. It would be good if the television stations helped combat the attack commercials by giving more time for civil speech."

Guillory said the 2002 Senate race is going to be monitored closely on a national scale.

"The fact that this is Senator Helms' seat, and that this determines the majority will mean there will be a lot of coverage."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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