Debates May Decide Daschle-Thune Race

Debates could be important in the close U.S. Senate election between Tom Daschle (search) and John Thune (search), according to a retired political science professor.

"In a race as close as this one apparently is, all you have to do is swing 1 or 2 percent of the undecided voters," said Thomas R. Hills of Spearfish. "That might make it even more important."

Public opinion polls earlier this year showed relatively few people were undecided in the close Daschle-Thune race, one of the biggest Senate races in the nation.

Daschle has agreed to five debates. Thune has demanded more.

The first is scheduled for Wednesday morning at Dakotafest, an agricultural expo near Mitchell.

And on Wednesday afternoon, House candidates Larry Diedrich (search) and Rep. Stephanie Herseth (search) meet in their first debate since Herseth won a June 1 election to fill South Dakota's vacant House seat.

Hills, a Thune supporter, said more Senate debates would be better. "I would say anywhere from six to eight would be a good number," he said.

Sharon Kasdorf of Brookings, a Daschle supporter, said voters have a saturation point.

"I wouldn't want to see them make a pest of themselves and just drag it on and on," she says. "Certainly, issues need to get out in the open, but they don't need to make it a long, drawn-out affair."

Debates let people hear the candidates' opinions apart from slick television ads, said Oscar Larson, 77, a retired farmer who lives in Sioux Falls.

Debates are a matter of accountability, said Jamie Limberg, a 36-year-old homemaker and mother of four from Hartford.

"I like to hear what the candidates are going to say and see if they follow through," she said. "I've seen some politicians talk out of both sides of their mouth. If they're going to say something in front of the public and support South Dakota views, I would hold them to that."