A federal judge suspended a ban on two television ads in the governor's race until the court can decide whether the pro-GOP messages were wrongly blocked by a Democrat-controlled elections board.

A hearing was set for Monday on the Republican Governors Association's claim of a free-speech violation.

The governors group, which supports GOP challenger Patrick Ballantine (search), accused the State Board of Elections of treating the two ads differently than an ad it accepted from the State Capitol Media Project, which favors Democratic Gov. Mike Easley (search).

Last month, the board fined the governors association nearly $200,000 for airing an ad that carried the phrase, "Patrick Ballantine for North Carolina." Last week, the board blocked an ad criticizing Easley's use of a state helicopter to go to his private house on the coast.

The board this month accepted a Media Project ad that flashed a Ballantine's name and picture, followed by the words "cut worker retraining programs" and later "do nothing for laid off workers."

Each vote against the governors association ads was 3-2, split along party lines. The group also noted that the three Democratic board members have donated to Easley's campaign.

Both groups are so-called 527s, named after the tax code that applies to them. Advertisements from such groups must focus on issues and cannot endorse candidates.

The order allowing the pro-GOP ads to resume was issued Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle.