The granddaddy of controversial political ads is Lyndon Johnson's 'Daisy Girl' ad, which suggested that a vote for his opponent, Republican Barry Goldwater was a vote for someone who wanted to start a nuclear war. It only ran once, but it's still talked about today more than 50 years later.
The first attack ad was put on by the Democrats in 1952. It featured a two-headed Republican at a circus side-show who couldn't agree with itself on issues.
Democrats don't have a lock on controversial ads. The 'Willie Horton' ad was aired by the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 in an effort to show that Democrat Michael Dukakis was soft on crime.
And in 2004 a group supporting George W. Bush aired ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which raised questions about John Kerry's Vietnam War record.
We've listed our top 10 controversial election ads here. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.
Big Bird-- 2012
President Obama won reelection in 2012 despite a sour economy. He was helped by this ad, which capitalized on Republican opponent Mitt Romney saying that he would cut subsidies to the Public Broadcasting System. The response from the Obama campaign was this ad, starring Big Bird. Watch it here.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads -- 2004
In 2004, terrorism and the War in Iraq were major issues. A political action committee supporting the George W. Bush campaign -- Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- aired a number of influential ads of the campaign. Many of these ads were only showed on the Internet, but they generated widespread and constant news coverage. The ad's claims triggered tremendous controversy during the election, with fierce debates over how accurate the claims were. Watch it here.
The Wind Surfer -- 2004
Another ad that harmed Kerry used footage that the then-Massachusetts senator did not expect to see: Himself, windsurfing amidst yachts. He twists back and forth in the gusty air, just like Bush claimed Kerry did while voting. The ad concludes, "John Kerry. Whichever way the wind blows." Watch it here.
The 'RATS' subliminal message -- 2000
It looks like a commonplace political commercials, but a Republican National Committee ad criticizing Democrat Al Gore on health care, the word 'RATS' appears on screen for a brief moment before the full word "bureaucrats" appears. GOP nominee George W. Bush dismissed the notion that the visual effect was intended to subliminally manipulate voters as the Gore campaign suggested. Watch it here.
The 'Willie Horton' and 'Revolving Door' ads -- 1988
George Bush campaign used brutal television advertising to portray Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis as an ineffective liberal who would let convicted murderers out of prison. The most infamous commercials were the Willie Horton ads, featuring a convicted murderer and rapist. These ads ran so often that Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, said: "By the time we're finished, they're going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis' running mate." Dukakis refused to counterattack until late in the campaign. By then it was too late. Watch the first ad here. Watch the second ad here.
The Bear -- 1984
No mention is made of the Cold War in this commercial, it becomes clear at the end of the ad that the bear represents the Soviet Union and the lone hunter represents the United States under Ronald Reagan. The reason that it makes our controversial list is because many viewers were unsure about what the bear represented, thinking that it had something to do with the environment or gun control. Watch it here.
Alone in the voting booth -- 1972
The campaign of South Dakota Senator George McGovern against Richard Nixon was a disaster, but this commercial was a diamond in the rough and was talked about at the time for its production and voice acting. Watch it here.
Daisy Girl -- 1964
The most famous of all campaign commercials, known as the 'Daisy Girl' ad, ran only once on September 7, 1964. Without any explanatory words, the ad uses a simple and powerful cinematic device, juxtaposing a scene of a little girl happily picking petals off of a flower against a countdown to a nuclear explosion. Watch it here.
One of the first -- 1952
One of the very first television attack add. In the race that matched Democrat and former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson against Republican nominee and World War II war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Democrats aired the first attack ad on the airwaves. Watch it here.