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Debates Could Take Place Of Ads In U.S. Senate Campaign

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RALEIGH, N.C. — No advertising in the race to decide who replaces retiring North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms? That may sound a little far-fetched, but Elizabeth Dole and Erskine Bowles appear ready to talk about it.

Even before the votes were counted, Dole issued a challenge. The Republican U.S. Senate candidate wants to replace advertising with debates in the two months leading up to the November general election.

"If my Democratic opponent agrees to do the same, I will refrain from all general election campaign advertising -- newspapers, radio and television," Dole said.

The plan calls for both candidates to spend $2 million each to fund statewide broadcasts of their debates. Bowles, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, seems ready to take Dole up on her offer.

"What I'd like to see happen is that Ms. Dole meet with me on Thursday, us work out what we're going to do on both advertising and debates, and that we have our first debate next week," Bowles said.

Jesse Rutledge, director of North Carolina's Voter Education Project, said debates instead of advertising might be just what the voters need.

"Voters dislike the reliance on TV advertising through political campaigns. They had really much rather get information straight from the candidates in forms of debate and town forums," Rutledge said.

What is good for the voters may not be good for the candidates.

Political experts suggested that debates would be a welcome change, but it is Dole who would be benefit because she is well known. The experts said Bowles needs television advertising to boost his name recognition.

Bowles has already bought TV time for ads to start running Thursday.