updated 12/18/2003 11:36:28 AM ET 2003-12-18T16:36:28

Television commercials criticizing Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean, including one featuring Osama bin Laden, will come off the air in three early voting states by the end of the week.

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Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values, a group with ties to Dean rival Dick Gephardt, is ending the ad runs in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to comply with a federal ban on such ads by outside groups in the month before a primary contest. Voting begins Jan. 19 with Iowa’s caucuses.

David Jones, the group’s treasurer, said in an interview that the decision to stop running the ads was made weeks before Dean and others condemned them and said they should be pulled.

“We’re going to take a break for the holidays and reassess where we are after that,” Jones said.

Ads could resurface elsewhere
But that doesn’t mean the ads, including the bin Laden spot that questions Dean’s national security qualifications, won’t resurface in states with later primaries. Michigan and Washington state hold primaries on Feb. 7, for example, which means such ads can be broadcast in those states until Jan. 8.

“It’s very possible that after the first of the year we’ll go up in other states,” Jones said. He said ads may also target other candidates in the nine-person Democratic field.

Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values has refused to disclose its financial backers until campaign finance laws require it to do so in early February. It has poured most of its money — about $400,000 — into ads in Iowa and has spent only a couple thousand dollars apiece in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Several labor unions that endorsed Gephardt, a Missouri congressman, have given thousands of dollars to the group to run issue ads. Jones is a former Gephardt fund-raiser while the group’s president, Edward Feighan, a former congressman from Ohio, has donated $2,000 to Gephardt.

Gephardt says he's not involved
Gephardt has said he doesn’t know anything about the group, including who is financing it. Campaign finance laws prohibit federal candidates or campaigns from coordinating with such groups.

Some rival campaigns have criticized the group’s latest ad not for its message — that Dean doesn’t have the national security experience needed to be president — but for its use of bin Laden’s picture.

“The purpose of the ad is to raise foreign policy experience as an issue. That’s exactly what the ad does,” Jones said. “No one has said these are not valid issues that we are raising.”

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