Americans have a love-hate relationship with negative campaigning, claiming to despise it and ranting about how it turns off the electorate, while at the same time paying an increasing amount of attention to negative ads and tactics during ever-lengthening campaign seasons. Swint gathers the most compelling of these campaigns from the two Golden Ages of negative campaigning—1864 to 1892 and 1988 to the present—in addition to some that fall outside those demarcations, and ranks them in descending order, from No. 25 to No. 1. Mudslingers covers presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial, and mayoral races and chronicles the dirtiest, most low-down campaign tactics of all time.
The list includes the presidential campaign of 1800, when the disputed outcome of the race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had to be decided by the House of Representatives, and the election of 2004, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry after one of the nastiest showdowns on record. The first round of negative campaigning in American history was driven by post-Civil War politics, the end of Reconstruction, an increasingly corrupt federal government, and a rabid partisan press. The current Golden Age of mudslinging and dirty politics is driven by huge increases in campaign spending, television advertising, decreased civility in public life, and a muckraking mass media. These fascinating stories from the annals of negative campaigning will entertain as well as educate, reminding us, the next time we are tempted to decry the current climate, that it was (almost) ever thus.