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In Response to Poll, Daschle Backers Amass

By Charles Babington and Brian Faler
Saturday, October 30, 2004; Page A11

Is Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) getting panicky in his reelection bid against former representative John Thune? Republicans gleefully note that after a newspaper poll showed Thune in the lead this week, Daschle's long-standing ban on third-party ads abruptly ended, and a chartered planeload of Democratic lawyers, lobbyists and loyalists is scheduled to fly from Washington to Sioux Falls today.

"There's almost a panic [among Democrats] around the nation about Daschle being able to cling to his seat," Thune campaign manager Dick Wadhams said.

Not so, Daschle supporters say. For starters, they say, the Zogby poll published in the Rapid City Journal is flawed. It showed Republican Thune leading Daschle, 48.5 percent to 45.5 percent, just within the margin of error. At first, however, the poll had shown an even larger Thune lead, which seemed so improbable that the pollsters adjusted their voter turnout estimates and arrived at the narrower gap.

Democrats scoffed, saying the poll remains suspect. It contradicts other public polls showing Daschle slightly ahead, and it showed House GOP challenger Larry Diedrich leading Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D). Even some Republicans find that hard to believe.

Bringing in the planeload of lawyers and other volunteers from Washington is simply prudent in the post-2000 election world, Daschle spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said it decided to pour $600,000 into anti-Thune ads -- despite Daschle's long-standing plea for third-party groups to stay out of the state -- because independent groups have been trashing Daschle for months.

University of South Dakota political scientist William Richardson said, "I think both sides are very nervous, because from everything we can see, it's still too close to call."

Nonresponsive on Platforms

The presidential candidates like to say they're running on the issues.

But when Project Vote Smart offered to not only chronicle but also help disseminate President Bush's and Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry's views on scores of issues, both camps took the same position: Thanks, but no thanks.

The nonpartisan group, which compiles information on thousands of candidates' positions, said it repeatedly asked both contenders to fill out a questionnaire detailing their views on issues such as immigration and taxes. The organization would provide those responses to the public on its Web site and to those calling its "voter hotline."

But after contacting each campaign 23 times, the group gave up. "They are only willing to address issues that they're comfortable with, that they know are positive for them," Project Vote Smart senior adviser Adelaide Elm said.

The presidential contenders weren't alone. The organization reported this week that just 33 percent of the more than 11,000 candidates running -- for offices ranging from the presidency to state legislature -- answered their surveys. Fifty-three percent of House and Senate candidates responded. The group said neither party was more likely to ignore the survey, but it said incumbents in Congress were half as likely to respond as their challengers.

"If they were running on the issues, they should be running on the issues that are important to voters and answering voters' questions," Elm said.

Red Sox Pitcher Takes a Bye

So much for Bush's opportunity to gloat: Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling canceled a pair of campaign appearances he was scheduled to make yesterday with Bush in New Hampshire, saying doctors had not given him the okay to travel. Schilling, who has been hampered by an injured ankle, also said he regretted urging voters Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America" to vote for Bush.

"While I hope to see him reelected, it's not my place, nor the time for me to offer up my political opinions unsolicited," said an e-mail attributed to the pitcher and posted on a Web site for the team's fans.

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