Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time

Undoubtedly, the upcoming 2008 presidential election will be full of the dirty politics and negative ads voters have come to expect during campaign season. Yet, even while modern mudslinging has grown more rampant—as a hungry media feed the frenzy for the next juicy story, which political adversaries are eager to supply—the phenomenon is hardly new.

Author, professor, and former political consultant Kerwin Swint looks back to the dawn of American politics, drawing from presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial, and mayoral races, to select the 25 most low-down, smear-filled campaigns in U.S. history.

Almost everyone will remember the 2004 battle between George W. Bush and John Kerry. But no less dirty was the lesser-known fierce 1800 contest between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams for control of the White House, finally settled on the floor of the House of Representatives in Jefferson’s favor.

Number one? The brutal 1970 Alabama Democratic primary, in which George Wallace repeatedly slurred his opponent Albert Brewer as “sissy britches,” spread false rumors about Brewer’s sexuality, and made patently racist appeals to white voters.

There are numerous victims of muddy political skirmishes, including Helen Gahagan Douglas, smeared as a communist by Richard Nixon, and Michael Dukakis, whose defeat in the presidential election of 1988 by George H. W. Bush was due in part to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad. Swint introduces readers to them all.

A lively journey through the most polluted of politics, Mudslingers provides a sparkling account of the history of negative campaigning, and, in the process, offers a fascinating glimpse into our national political culture.

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