Save for a few run-off elections, the election is over. Your mailboxes and television sets are free from negative attacks. Don't worry, there are more elections to come.

Every election cycle I hear campaigns have gotten nastier than ever; people lament they're disinclined to vote for either candidate. They wonder why candidates run negative advertisements.

Strictly speaking, a negative advertisement - or contrast piece - is any campaign material that discusses a candidate's opponent instead of himself. It could be on the issues, on public records, or personal. It could be light hearted, policy oriented, or biography based; but anything about the opponent is "negative."

Negative campaigning works; campaigns will continue to go negative as long as it works; campaigns will cease to be negative when it ceases to work. When voters complain they hate negative advertising they are proving they've seen it, they remember it, and it makes them take action. People infrequently talk about positive advertising, discuss it with their friends, or call a campaign to praise it.

Negative campaigning can persuade someone not to support a candidate; it can persuade someone not to vote; it can persuade the media to investigate a charge. An effective negative campaign can drive poll numbers down and bury them where they will not rise again. Negativity and incivility are nothing new in politics.

During the 1800 campaign for president, incumbent John Adams faced a re-election challenge against his own vice-president, Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, the party of Adams, circulated handbills saying, "Thomas Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father...raised wholly on hoe-cake made of coarse-ground Southern corn, bacon and hominy, with an occasional change of fricasseed bullfrog." They claimed Jefferson was not a Christian and a pro-Adams newspaper editorialized that if voters elected Jefferson, "murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced" and crime and distress would permeate the land.

Meanwhile supporters of Jefferson claimed Adams sought to marry his son to the daughter of Britain's King George III to establish and American monarchy. They warned Jefferson wanted to start a war with France and said the President had a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

Jefferson won. The Electoral College chose, in today's campaigning terms, the guy who wanted to eliminate prayer in schools, cut education, reduce Medicare and who was soft on crime over the elitist neo-con.

In 1824, John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson. Jackson had the most electoral and popular votes, but not a majority of either, so the House of Representatives made the decision and chose Adams. Adams then picked the Speaker of the House (and former presidential rival) Henry Clay to be his Secretary of State.

Talk about a permanent campaign, four years later, Jackson and his partisans were still angry and back again for a rematch against Adams.

Those on the side of Adams called Jackson's mother a prostitute and his wife an adulteress and bigamist. They circulated the "Coffin Bill" which accused Jackson of murdering American soldiers during the Battle of New Orleans.

Jackson supporters called Adams an elitist and pimp who installed "gamming tables and gambling furniture" in the White House. They claimed his wife Louisa was an illegitimate child and that she and Adams had engaged in premarital relations.

Due to a massive turnout in new voters, the murdering adulterer Jackson defeated the gambling pimp Adams.

There is nothing new under the sun, including negative campaigning. Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 "Daisy Girl" ad communicated if you elect Barry Goldwater, we'll have a nuclear war.

Republicans chanted "Ma, ma, where's my pa?" to highlight Grover Cleveland's paternity scandal in 1884.

Al Gore in the Democratic Primary and George H.W. Bush in the general election both attacked Michael Dukakis over rapist Willie Horton in 1988.

In 1972, Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President branded George McGovern as the candidate of the three A's: acid (LSD), abortion, amnesty (for Vietnam draft-dodgers).

As for the "good old days" in Mississippi, few can meet the vitriolic standard of Theodore Bilbo. I can't even fully quote him in a respectful newspaper. Bilbo called one political opponent, "a cross between a mongrel and a cur, conceived in a...graveyard at midnight, suckled by a cow, and educated by a fool."

The Jackson Daily News Editor Frederick Sullens called Bilbo, "a pimp and frequenter of lewd houses" to which Bilbo responded calling Sullens "a degenerate by birth, carpetbagger by inheritance, a liar by instinct, an assassin of character by practice, and a coward by nature."

If you miss those negative ads, they'll be back soon enough, because they worked this year as they have for centuries.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at