WASHINGTON – Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., sought to win the high road in the race for Senate by offering to sign a clean campaign pledge that incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., drafted in 1996 but so far has not agreed to re-sign.
Thune announced in a Friday news conference at his campaign headquarters in Sioux Falls that he will abide by the terms of Johnson's 1996 Clean Campaign Pledge prohibiting third-party advertisements that are often used to mudsling without the candidates getting their hands dirty in the process. Johnson's 1996 pledge borrowed from his opponent former Sen. Larry Pressler's 1990 pledge.
"For years now, candidates have been trying to end the influence of third-party groups in South Dakota politics," declared Thune, who is running for Johnson's Senate seat. "Each year they fail. Even if Tim Johnson will not work with me to end the influence of third parties on South Dakota campaigns, I will."
On Monday, the two candidates agreed to a cease-fire after both the Republican and Democratic parties and their various campaign committees — including third-party organizations — filled the air with ads attacking the candidates based on their support or opposition to various issues.
Critics say the race has become a heated proxy war between President Bush, who carried South Dakota in 2000, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Thune had proposed the cease-fire on third-party ads and Johnson agreed with a promise to meet later in the week to hash out the details of banning such ads for the rest of the campaign.
Johnson came back with a counterproposal on Wednesday limiting the ban to television ads only and seeking that Thune and others refrain from any attacks on Daschle. Thune called the proposal a "sham" that would continue to allow the negative third-party ads.
Thune said he will meet separately for any deals to be made on Daschle and vowed to abide by his unilateral pledge until Johnson's supporters sling some new mud.
"I promise that any criticism of Tim Johnson made in ads run by my campaign will be made by me personally and not a third party. I will voluntarily live under the terms of this agreement until the other side violates it by attacking me," he said.