President Richard M. Nixon: Campaign for Governor of California

About the campaign for governor of California ran by future President Richard M. Nixon, his loss and famous words.

Most observers agree that if Nixon had simply "retired" from politics after 1960, the Republicans would have gladly given him a 2nd try for the Presidency 4 years later. But Nixon was still smarting from the 1st defeat of his political career, and he felt the need to prove himself a winner. He entered the race for the California governorship in 1962 against the incumbent, Pat Brown. Almost from the beginning, Nixon's campaign seemed to go badly, and he predicted to friends that he would lose. One issue that counted heavily against him was "The Hughes Loan"--a secret loan of $200,000 from billionaire Howard Hughes to Nixon's brother Donald. Questions about this twisted deal seemed to confront Nixon wherever he went. In San Francisco's Chinatown, he nearly exploded when he opened a fortune cookie in a public ceremony only to find the message "What About the Hughes Loan?" The cookie had been placed there by political prankster Dick Tuck. More seriously damaging to his cause was the common impression that Nixon was interested in the California governorship only as a steppingstone to the White House. Nixon himself furthered that impression with a well-publicized slip in the last days of the campaign, describing himself as a candidate for "governor of the U.S." On Election Day, Brown easily defeated Nixon with a comfortable margin of 350,000 votes. All night, Nixon watched the returns with bitterness and refused to concede defeat. The next morning, he was still watching--with glassy eyes--the numbers on his television screen. His press secretary, Herb Klein, told him that the reporters downstairs were demanding a statement. "Screw them," Nixon replied, and he sent Klein down to make a statement in his place. Klein was in the middle of that presentation, in front of television cameras of all major networks, when he was suddenly interrupted by a commotion behind him. Nixon-still unshaven, and wearing his soiled and rumpled clothes--had unexpectedly walked into the room. He proceeded to offer the press a tirade that has been aptly described as "a nervous breakdown in public." His jerky, convulsive gestures and nervous giggles furthered the impression that here was a man who had been pushed to the outer fringes of sanity. Among Nixon's statements on that memorable day:

Now that all the members of the press are so delighted that I have lost...I believe Governor Brown has a heart, even though he believes that I do not....I did not win. I have no hard feelings against anybody, against any opponent and least of all the people of California....And as I leave the press, all I can say is this: For 16 years, ever since the Hiss case, you've had a lot of fun-a lot of fun-that you've had an opportunity to attack me... Just think about how much you're going to be missing: You won't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

The political obituaries that appeared across the country following this remarkable performance proved entirely premature. By 1964, Nixon was back on the campaign trail, stumping tirelessly for Republican candidates even in the midst of the Goldwater debacle. Two years later, he continued his nonstop campaigning and received a good deal of the credit for Republican congressional gains. In between elections, Nixon worked for a Wall Street law firm at a salary of $200,000 a year. Nixon told reporters that he enjoyed living in New York because it was "a fast track." He added, "Any person tends to vegetate unless he is moving on a fast track." By 1968 Nixon's own fast track, along with the gratitude of Republican regulars throughout the country, brought him into contention once again as a leading candidate for the presidential nomination.

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