The television spots outline the major issue in the Republican Party fight between Gov. William J. Janklow and Sen. James Abdnor, the only senator who faces a serious primary challenge this year.
"Things are good in California. Business is fine in New York," says one. "James Abdnor says he's doing the best he can. South Dakota isn't." A graphic shows that 6,000 South Dakota farms have been foreclosed, 4,860 businesses have gone bankrupt and annual average income for farm families is down $12,000 since Abdnor was elected in 1980.
For the other side, an ad shows a man earnestly perusing the two candidates' names while the announcer praises both. "But if you vote for Bill Janklow, you're voting to fire Jim Abdnor," the announcer says. "Let's not fire Jim Abdnor. He's done a good job. He deserves another term."
Janklow argues that Abdnor has been ineffective in protecting South Dakota's interests and is part of the Washington process that has contributed to the state's woes. Abdnor, he maintains, is incapable of holding the seat in November against Rep. Thomas A. Daschle, the unopposed Democratic candidate.
Abdnor, who has held office for 30 years as state senator, lieutenant governor, congressman and senator, is banking on the loyalty -- and personal affection -- that South Dakota Republicans feel for him. His ads cite his attempt to pass a major water bill and opposition to budget cuts for the Rural Electrification Administration.
Although a poll by South Dakota University taken May 8-11 showed Abdnor ahead by 10 points, 47 percent to 37 percent, many political professionals believe that Janklow has the momentum and that the race is about even.
Janklow contends that a poll taken by Lance Tarrance of Houston for the National Association of Realtors shows him leading Abdnor by four points.
The race has been surprisingly low key, given Janklow's volatility and maverick reputation, but a lot rides on the outcome nationally. The Democrats need to pick up a net of four seats to regain control of the Senate, and they see Abdnor's seat as one of their best opportunities. Failure to capture it would be a severe blow to them.
The Abdnor-Janklow race has overshadowed Tuesday's statewide races for the nominations for governor and Daschle's at-large House seat.
On the Democratic slate, former three-term governor Richard F. Kneip, who enjoys high name recognition and job approval, has an 18-point lead in the polls and is expected to beat Public Utilities Commissioner Kennth Stofferan and House Minority Leader Lars Herseth, son of a former governor.
The Democrats are taking almost as much interest in the Republican gubernatorial race, in which former House speaker George Mickelson, also the son of a former governor, leads among likely voters surveyed by GOP pollster Robert Teeter. Mickelson is the choice of 33 percent, former representative Clint Roberts has 22 percent, Lt. Gov. Lowell C. Hansen III has 19 percent and Secretary of State Alice Kundert has 15 percent.
The question is whether Mickelson can win 35 percent of the vote and avoid a runoff with Roberts. The Democrats say they see Mickelson as a much more formidable general election foe than Roberts.
The national Realtors threw a wild card into the Abdnor-Janklow race late last week when their political action committee unexpectedly announced an independent Abdnor contribution of $80,000 to $100,000, a huge sum in a state where television time is cheap. Under federal election laws there is no limit on such independent efforts by PACs.
Abdnor's supporters say this contribution could tip a close race his way, although they doubt that there's $100,000 worth of television and radio time left to buy. Others believe, however, that the Realtors' announcement has given Janklow new ammunition for his argument that Abdnor can't win.
Janklow has been running an ad contending that the three principals behind the Realtors' decision are former political advisers to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), former president Jimmy Carter and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. The Democrats want to help nominate Abdnor because he would be the weaker candidate in November, the ad says. Showing pictures of Kennedy and Carter, it asks whether South Dakota Republicans want national Democrats meddling in their nomination process.
"I am convinced that Abdnor can't win," Janklow said in an interview. "He has no history of being able to appeal to ticket splitters, and I have always gotten large numbers of Democrats and independents. I got 72 percent of them in my last race for governor."
Some here expected that Janklow would hit Abdnor harder on being part of the Washington problem and in questioning his effectiveness. Some believe that Janklow decided rough treatment would boomerang, but he denies it.
"Jim is a friend of mine, and I made a calculation that I wasn't going to hurt his feelings or embarrass him," he said. "But if you're from Washington, you're part of the problem and he plays on the team, he's one of the boys. I asked him how he could vote for the dairy provisions in the farm bill, which really penalize South Dakota farmers, and he said he hadn't read it, that [Minnesota Republican Sen. Rudy] Boschwitz was supposed to take care of that."
Abdnor counters that his five years in the Senate and eight years in the House are a big asset for the state.
"You've got to get along with people," he said. "Cooperation is a must and [Janklow] couldn't function back there the way I do. You can't bash people all the time and get anything done."