Political Mudslinging Through the Years

Author and professor of political science Kerwin Swint provides prime examples of history's greatest smear campaigns

By David Kiley

Political strategists have been mostly unwavering in the belief that negative ads work during a Presidential race. But the action so far in 2008 has given some of them reason to believe this election cycle may be a different battlefield. Mitt Romney and John Edwards went negative early and often, and both are now out of the contest.

For the remaining contenders, negative ads also pose big risks. Hillary Clinton pulled unfavorable radio spots from the South Carolina primary after less than 24 hours, when her campaign's rhetoric against Barack Obama was perceived as racial, if not racist. Ads attacking John McCain's policy for maintaining a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq must be carefully balanced against his record as a patriot who spent five years as a Vietnam prisoner of war.

Some strategists, including Texas-based Democratic campaign and opposition research expert Jason Stanford says the increased role independent and young voters will play this November "makes going negative more complicated this year than in past years." Other strategists agree. Cynical and overly negative messages seem to be out of step with the country's zeitgeist this year. "Positive is the new black," in terms of fashion, says Deutsch Chairman Donny Deutsch, who hosts CNBC's The Big Idea. Deutsch points to this year's Super Bowl ads as being more positive and uplifting than ads of the last two years, which tended to be snarky, mean, or drawing on black humor.

One expert in negative political advertising is Kerwin Swint, associate professor of political science at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and author of Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time, says he doubts that ads in this year's election cycle will make into future editions of his book. It's worth looking at some of his all-time worst, though, to see what we'll be missing.