Vote 2010: Nastiest Campaign on Record

PHOTO: Harry Reid ad Sharron Angle Crazy Juice
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This might be the sweet land of liberty, but Campaign 2010 has been anything but sweet.

From Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio telling President Obama to "take the endorsement and shove it" to the head stomping of a liberal activist at a Kentucky event for Senate hopeful Rand Paul and to New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino telling a reporter, "I'll take you out buddy."

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If you think what the candidates said and what their devotees did was bad, don't forget about the political ads.

A big infusion of attack ads in the last few weeks turned this election year into the most negative one on record. That's the conclusion of the Wesleyan Media Project, which followed the more than 700,000 airings of political ads since January.

Most Negative Campaign Yet

"Every year there is speculation about unprecedented levels of negativity, but at least in comparison to recent campaigns, the speculation this year is correct," Wesleyan Media Project co-director Erika Franklin Fowler said in a press release.

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Along with seeing more negative ads than ever this year, more than half of all ads aired were pure attack ads, researchers found.

Case in point, take the campaign ad that made it the election year when no one drank milk anymore. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's campaign made an ad hawking "Sharron Angle Crazy Juice."

Battling for Nevada
Battling for Nevada

Negativity Nothing New

Vanderbilt University political science professor John Geer studies campaign advertising and says the negativity is nothing new.

"Over the last 50 years, we have seen an increase in attack ads," Geer said. "It's largely because the country is polarizing. There's just more difference between candidates. Thirty years ago, candidates tended to be much more moderate. Now, they're much more likely to be far left or far right."

But for all those who think that Vote 2010, for all its bile, belittling and boorishness, is as low as we can go. Think again.

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This land where our fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride has had its share of brutal nastiness for hundreds of years.

"We worry about attacks today, but they pale in comparison to what was unfolding in the beginning part of our country's history," Geer said. "Partisan politics in the 1800s is tough stuff."

Negative Ads Have Root In Country's Founding

Go back to Vote 1828, when supporters of John Quincy Adams put out pamphlets saying Andrew Jackson's mother was a prostitute, his wife was a bigamist and that Jackson himself was a murderer.

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Jackson supporters accused Adams of once procuring prostitutes for the tsar of Russia.

In 1884, one of the favorite slogans was "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" That was hurled at Grover Cleveland, who had a child out of wedlock.

Even before that, Thomas Jefferson was referred to as an anti-Christ. That's much more hard hitting than being labeled a flip-flopper or a witch, Geer said.

The Conversation: Handicapping Vote 2010
The Conversation: Handicapping Vote 2010

Political scientists say that the democratic process lends itself to negativity.

"You have to be able to go negative first if you want to change things. It's part and parcel of democracy," Geer said.

Even one of the principle symbols of democracy, the Declaration of Independence, is an attack document -- attacking King George III and England, Geer said.

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