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The race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Christopher Bond, R-Mo., has thus far featured the usual complement of television advertisements, fueled by millions of dollars in donations on both sides. Bond began airing ads months ago, a tactic that reflects his fatter war chest. At a recent reporting period, Bond had three times as much cash on hand as did his opponent, Attorney General Jay Nixon. Each candidate signed a "clean campaign" pledge early on, pledging not to air ads that falsely impugned the integrity of his opponent. The clean campaign pledge was an effort promoted by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce to rid our campaigns of the excessive negativity that has marred many such contests in the past.

Both campaigns have proceeded to air negative ads. There has been some hand-wringing within and without the media concerning all this. While we love the mud wrestling no more than anyone else, many of the pieties lamenting negative campaigning are frankly overblown. Politics, as Mr. Dooley used to say, ain't beanbag. It is a contact sport marked by sometimes bruising exchanges. Check some of the routine give-and-take from early American history campaigns of the 18th and 19th centuries. You will find wild allegations of criminal activity and questionable paternity leveled against Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and many other giants of American history. Today's difference is that instead of the scabrous handbills and openly partisan journals of those days, you now have television, radio and the Internet Web sites to communicate the messages faster.

In this environment, newspapers can play an important role. Large metropolitan newspapers have in recent years added news analysis features, frequently called "ad checks," which examine claims made in a given ad, weigh these claims against known facts, attempt to provide sources and context and let the reader make up his own mind. This is a positive step toward an informed electorate. Other newspapers, including this one, carry story after story on the campaign, both locally generated and of the statewide wire variety.

Our most recent story on the Bond-Nixon contest was Monday's wire story on the televised debate held the day before. Bond pulled from his suit coat a check for $10,000 payable to St. Louis Children's Hospital, saying he would donate that sum if Nixon would agree with him to stop the negative ads. Nixon, who has trailed by double-digit margins in every poll, declined. Negative ads, it would appear, are as old as the republic and here to stay.