Stories of his slave mistress haunted Jefferson during the 1804 campaign and in 1828 Andrew Jackson’s opponents accused his wife of bigamy. In 1860, Lincoln’s opponents called him “ape-like.” Perhaps the most famous negative ad of all time came during the 1964 campaign and showed a little girl, then a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion. It is widely credited with solidifying Barry Goldwater’s image as a dangerous warmonger and Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory.
Dirty tricks and outright lies are clearly out of bounds, but it’s not always easy to figure out where to draw the line. Are members of your own party off limits? Ronald Reagan, who said the eleventh commandment was “thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,” had no qualms about speaking ill of Democrats. Newt Gingrich, who blamed negative ads for undercutting his support in Iowa, is targeting Mitt Romney with ads in New Hampshire. How about bashing your opponents’ personal lives? But can you—and should you—separate discussions of a candidate’s character from the issues?
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