WASHINGTON -- There is a high-minded theory of politics, perpetuated by the melodramatic scripts of Aaron Sorkin, that campaigns really don't have to be such ignoble affairs. A candidate can indeed win by staying positive if their arguments are persuasive and heartfelt.
It's not a total Hollywood fantasy. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has never run a negative ad in his life. But as the Democratic Socialist is finding out in the midst of a hard fought primary, there may be a limit to a conflict-averse strategy. As any operative and campaign ad guru will tell you, going negative really does work.
In the latest episode of our "Candidate Confessional" podcast, former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) declared as much. He recounted an instance, during the campaign for the open Senate seat in 2014, when both he and current Senator David Perdue were trying to get the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Perdue ended up having a terrible meeting with the pro-business lobby and Kingston ultimately prevailed. Shortly thereafter, Perdue started running ads against Kingston accusing him of supporting amnesty because a group supporting him backed comprehensive immigration reform. That group was… the Chamber of Commerce.
Perdue's ad was placed at roughly 3:50 p.m. on a Friday, just ten minutes before the deadline to place spots on air. "We could not react to it," Kingston said. "That ad could have been the difference."
Kingston would go on to narrowly lose to Perdue in the Republican primary runoff, bringing an end to his time in Congress. He hadn't actually lost an election since his days in elementary school. He took from the defeat one lesson.
"Negative ads work," he said. "And when people say I'm sick and tired of them, they just don't have the political stomach. The activists who show up in primaries, they have the political stomach. So I think negative ads are used because they do work and even as a seasoned politician, I was amazed at how they move the needle."
Listen to the podcast above, or download it on iTunes. And while you're there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week's episode, when our guest will be Newt Gingrich, discussing his 2012 White House run.