Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time : Countdown from No. 25 To No. 1

By Kerwin C. Swint | Go to book overview

21
THE ART OF WAR

Jesse Helms V. Harvey Gantt, U.S. Senate, North Carolina,
1990

North Carolinians are the most experienced and sophisticated view-
ers of negative ads in the country. They've seen more of them than
anyone else
.

—Democratic strategist Gary Pearce

There are plumbers who take special exams to become master plumbers. Building contractors can earn a special designation as a master builder. Jesse Helms of North Carolina will likely be known to future historians as a master politician. But his negative campaign tactics and aggressive posturing in the Senate also earned him the nicknames Senator Mean and Dr. No.

Helms served in the U.S. Senate for thirty years (1972–1972), earning a reputation as a tough, conservative opponent of liberal political causes, big government, and "internationalist" foreign policy. But it is in the realm of political campaigns that he honed his political skills and practiced the art of political warfare.

Some observers would be less kind to the senator. They would emphasize his penchant for race baiting, demagoguery, and dirty politics. And they are correct. But even his most ardent opponents would acknowledge his skill in modern political communication and tactical decision making in the heat of battle.

The journalist Howard Troxler notes his role as one of the leaders in the conservative renaissance in American politics as well as his role in the development of modern attack politics and strategy. Troxler observes that Helms "was one of the first and most effective Republican politicians to tap into deep

-39-

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