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Quiet Race in North Carolina May Get Rougher in Last Weeks

U.S. congressman and GOP nominee, Richard Burr, told The Hill newspaper last week that he was poised to unleash $6.7 million worth of ads in the final six weeks of the campaign.

Burr told the paper the ad blitz would help inspire Republican activists who have urged him that it was time for “skin to rip and blood to flow” in the Senate contest with former Clinton Chief of Staff and 2004 Democratic Senate candidate Erskine Bowles.

Bowles shot back with a letter to Burr saying both campaigns should focus on the issues facing North Carolinians and not a “blitzkrieg of negative advertising.”

“I will pledge to you that I will not be the first to begin running a negative advertisement. If you were to join me, and to instruct our party committees and any third party groups interested in running attack ads in our race to do the same, we can offer North Carolinians a real, constructive discussion of the issues,” Bowles wrote.

Burr spokesman Doug Heye told the Charlotte Observer last week that the “skin and blood” line had been in reference to the kind of campaign some of his supporters wanted and not the kind of campaign the five-term congressman would run.

But Heye also ruled out the idea of not criticizing Bowles in the barrage of advertising set to be unleashed.

“Certainly we’re going to discuss Erskine Bowles’ record,” he said.

Within days of his comments, the Burr campaign took aim at an issue of critical importance, especially among rural voters — tobacco.

Heye stressed it was time for the campaign to begin examining Bowles’ role in “the most anti-tobacco administration in our nation’s history.”

And a proposed tobacco buyout program quickly moved to the front of the campaign debate, with both Burr and Bowles discussing their plans to aid hurting tobacco farmers in back-to-back appearances last weekend.

Both candidates campaigned Saturday in the town of Wilson, a site once known as the world’s largest tobacco market.

Bowles, back by former Gov. Jim Hunt, argued he could work with the woman who defeated him just two years ago to create a bipartisan plan to aid the farmers.

“I give Elizabeth Dole an A,” said Bowles, referring to the Republican senator. “She’s really tried to get a tobacco buyout. I think Richard Burr has laid in the weeds and did the bidding of RJR [the nation’s second largest tobacco company]. I don’t think he has been very effective.”

Hunt added it was Bowles’ effort that got every Democratic U.S. senator to vote for the buyout.

The buyout plan would help farmers transfer from growing tobacco to other crops and would guarantee a level of support from the government for those who chose to stop cultivating the crop. If adopted, the proposal would likely mean a $6 billion boost for the poorer agricultural communities in North Carolina.

Burr, who appeared at the same restaurant later in the day, shot back that Bowles had worked in the Clinton administration when it moved to raise taxes on cigarettes and have the Food and Drug Administration regulate the industry.

“If he says he is a friend of tobacco, it is a recent conversion on his part,” Burr said. “As chief of staff to the president of the United States, he had every opportunity to institute a buyout.”

The campaign is expected to grow more intense as both candidates unleash a wave of new ads ahead of a scheduled Sept. 27, 2004 debate.