Douglas v Nixon - A Campaign on the Conscience

Ingrid Scobie tells the story of the infamous 1950 campaign that set Richard Nixon on his path to the White House, and ended the political career of his remarkable woman opponent, Helen Douglas.

With the latest presidential election in full swing in the United States, American political commentary is, as usual, full of discussion about 'dirty politics' – American style. In the words of one expert, 'every presidential campaign is deemed the dirtiest yet'. The extremely effective advertisement, used repeatedly by the Bush campaign in 1988, implying that Michael Dukakis was soft on crime is still fresh in voters' minds.

Some campaigns, however, loom larger than others in the American political conscience. One of the most memorable in the collective memory of people who care about campaign ethics is the 1950 Senate race in California between two nationally-known members of the House of Representatives, Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas. This campaign, often called the worst example of 'red-smear' tactics in the twentieth century, catapulted Nixon into the vice-presidency in l952.

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