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Pundits: Senate Ads Highlight Differences

Ads put out by the campaigns of Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Elizabeth Dole address each candidate's stances on issues such as Social Security and minimum wage.

Though after winning the Republican primary Dole proposed an ad-free campaign to avoid a campaign season filled with negative ads and personal attacks, both she and Bowles have aired ads criticizing the other's positions.

Bowles accused Dole in a television ad of wanting "to gamble Social Security money in the stock market though it would reduce guaranteed benefits for retirees."

In a separate ad defending Dole's Social Security record, a narrator associates Bowles with the troubled administration of former President Clinton by questioning where he learned his negative tactics, then replying, "Bill Clinton's White House."

Bowles served as Clinton's chief of staff from 1996-98.

But Dole's press secretary, Janet Bradbury, said Dole is setting the record straight in her ads. "I haven't thought of Mrs. Dole's ads as negative," she said. "She has had to set the record straight. There have been some attack ads. Mrs. Dole was trying to avoid this by forgoing ads in favor of debates being broadcast."

Bowles will continue to focus his ads on differences on issues, said his press secretary, Susan Lagana. "We believe the race is going to be won on issues, focusing on issues that Dole and Bowles disagree on, such as Social Security." she said."We will continue to talk about where Dole stands and where Erskine stands."

Experts say the negative campaigning is not out of hand and is beneficial to voters still undecided about who to support.

The ads have not been disruptive to the election process, said Ferrel Guillory, director of the UNC Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life. "They have started attacking, but they haven't descended into attacking character," he said. "They are still on issues."

Guillory said the ads draw attention to important issues rather than damage the integrity of the race. He also emphasized that there is a difference between attacks on the issues and attacks on character. "A blatant assault on a person -- that goes too far," he said. "We ought to have a debate, and we ought to be fairly intense and probe vulnerabilities of an opponent."

Issue-based campaign ads are important to voters who want to make an informed decision, said Gary Nordlinger, a longtime national campaign consultant. "Voters want information useful to them to decide their vote," he said. "There is a difference between ads that contrast and ones that are harsh in tone. Voters dismiss this."

Nordlinger added that voters expect candidates to advertise if they produce quality ads not aimed at mudslinging.

Experts also stress that both Bowles' and Dole's ads are legitimate in lieu of the decision not to eliminate all paid television and newspaper advertising.

According to Dole's original request, televised debates paid for by $2 million from each campaign would replace ads.

Ron Faucheux, editor in chief of Campaigns and Elections magazine, which focuses on trends and strategies of candidate and issue campaigning, said Dole's advertisements are justified. "She can do anything she wants, as can he, as long as she is accurate and honest."

But UNC political science Professor Thad Beyle said he thinks Dole proposed an ad-free campaign to goad Bowles into being the one to reject the political debates. "Dole wanted to stay out of debates," he said. "What she wanted to do was ads. She talks from a script."

Guillory said he thinks Dole proposed no ads because it was to her benefit not to have to explain her positions on issues because Bowles questioned them.

The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Sunday that Dole still leads by more than 10 points in the polls.

Dole's lead in the polls demonstrates she already has support in the state, making it beneficial for her to refuse advertising that might highlight her weaknesses as a candidate, Nordlinger said.

But Beyle emphasized that any advertising is healthy because it gets the public interested in the race, thus increasing voter turnout. "It helps get people out to vote who didn't see any reason to."

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