Vote 2010: Nastiest Campaign on Record

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First Television Campaign Ad Airs

What used to be done by chant and pamphlet got a boost in 1952 when the first political ad aired on television. It was an attack ad, with Dwight Eisenhower attacking Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower won the election by a landslide.

The first ad was simple, with Eisenhower reading from cue cards at a desk, but, oh, how things have changed.

Since then, campaign strategists have become masterminds at using television to boost their candidates and to try to destroy their opponents.

The "Daisy" ad of 1964 is seminal in the study of campaign advertisement. The ad showed a little girl picking daisies who suddenly looks up to the sky as a countdown hits zero and Lyndon Baines Johnson's voice is heard saying, "These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die."

The advertisement never mentioned Barry Goldwater's name, but alluded that Johnson's opponent would lead the country to nuclear war.

In 1988, the Willie Horton ad aimed at Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis by supporters of Republican George H.W. Bush triggered major controversy. The ad, explicitly about crime, implicitly linked African American men to crime.

Attack Ads More Personal This Year

While these ads were ugly, Geer said the advertisements this season are personal. With a year of a record number of political novices, many don't have resumes that can be easily attacked. So opponents go straight for the personal attack.

"I think there's more personal negativity because these are Congressional candidates," he said. "These are candidates at a lower level of politics where the quality of candidates varies."

So from tea partier Christine O'Donnell telling her opponent to "man up," to Carly Fiorina depicting her primary opponent as an evil wolf with red eyes in sheep's clothing, and to Jack Conway dredging up a college prank by Rand Paul involving he and his buddies called, "Aqua Buddha," it has been a nasty year.

No one is saying that Vote 2010 is the epitome of politeness, a model of etiquette, a vision of purity. It might seem unseemly and uninspiring, but one thing that it's not is un-American.

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