- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

An environmental group is targeting the Republican challenger in South Dakota's tight Senate race as the first of a dozen candidates on its hit list in the midterm elections this year.
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) will spend up to $500,000 on a 30-second television ad that began airing statewide Friday against Rep. John Thune of South Dakota. Mr. Thune is trying to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
The political ad criticizes Mr. Thune for "voting twice to allow more arsenic in drinking water" and "opposing efforts to clean up South Dakota's 161 polluted lakes and rivers."
LCV spokesman Scott Stoermer said Mr. Thune is "a clear enough choice and a high enough priority" to choose as the group's first target for defeat on its "Dirty Dozen" list.
But Thune campaign spokesman Christine Iverson said the ad is inaccurate and negative and will backfire against Mr. Johnson. She called the LCV a Washington-based extremist liberal group with no real interest in South Dakotans.
"These people are not from South Dakota, and they have completely underestimated the degree to which people here are unwilling to tolerate negative attack ads," Miss Iverson said. "We should be paying them to run these ads."
Mr. Stoermer said the LCV has done extensive research on South Dakota politics.
"We've done a lot of polling in South Dakota to figure out what South Dakotans care about," Mr. Stoermer said. "Water quality is really high on the list of issues up there."
Mr. Thune and his supporters say South Dakota's Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday proved that voters are tired of negative ads. In that race, former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Rounds defeated two better-financed candidates who spent most of the campaign attacking each other; Attorney General Mark Barnett and Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby.
"The results on June 4 were a mandate from the people of South Dakota," Miss Iverson said. "They want a positive campaign focused on South Dakota issues. This [LCV ad] will backfire against Tim Johnson."
She said Mr. Thune at first voted to delay implementation of stricter standards on arsenic in drinking water because of estimates that the new regulations could cost rural water customers more than $320 per year. Ultimately, in November 2001, Mr. Thune voted to approve the new standards on arsenic, as did Mr. Johnson and Mr. Daschle.
The ad is just the beginning of the LCV's campaign this year to influence congressional races as never before. The group spent $2.3 million in the 1998 congressional races and plans to spend about $6 million this year.
In 1998, nine of the 13 candidates on the LCV's hit list were defeated, including incumbent Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina. The group typically contributes about 75 percent of its campaign funds to Democratic candidates.
"This year is a really important year," Mr. Stoermer said. "More people are seeing us as a place that's worth putting their money if they want to see pro-environment members elected to the Congress."
He said it was possible that the LCV also would run ads in South Dakota against Republican House candidate Bill Janklow, but not right now.
"We've got one fish to fry at a time in South Dakota," Mr. Stoermer said.
Miss Iverson said the group's increased political muscle "proves that the League of Conservation Voters is not an environmental organization."
"The League of Conservation Voters is a left-wing, Democratic political organization," she said. "Their goal is not protecting the environment; their goal is protecting endangered incumbent Democrat senators like Tim Johnson."

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