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Perry on Politics: Vic and Tuck

Published by James O'Toole on .


                                                       By James M. Perry 

 Hardly anyone seems to have noticed, but it was 50 years ago that Barry Goldwater ran for president, lost disastrously to Lyndon B. Johnson, and changed the face of the Republican Party in ways that endure to this day. 

 It was my first presidential campaign and I, and most of my colleagues, had a ball. Much of the fun in that campaign was supplied by two effervescent little guys, Dick Tuck, the prankster, for the Democrats, and Vic Gold, the manic press guy, for the Republicans.

 Tuck joined the Marines not long after Pearl Harbor and was trained to defuse bombs. He says on his web site he learned how to combine CO2 fire extinguished snow with pure distilled alcohol to freeze a bomb's electric fuse. He also discovered that the alcohol, mixed with orange juice, was palatable. Tuck did some work for Jack Kennedy in 1960. He supposedly coached a little old lady wearing a Nixon button to approach Nixon the day after his first debate with Kennedy and say, "That's all right, son.  Kennedy beat you last night, but don't worry.  You'll get him next time.''

Tuck's next stop was the governor's race in 1962 between California Governor Pat Brown and Richard Nixon, seeking redemption for losing to Jack Kennedy two years earlier.  At one point in that campaign, Tuck put up a big sign in Los Angeles's Chinatown that said, in Chinese, "Welcome Nixon." It also said, "What About the Hughes Loan?" referring to a $205,00 unsecured loan Howard Hughes had provided to Nixon's brother, Donald (in fact, though, it was learned later, it said, "What about the huge loan?") 

 I first encountered Tuck during the Goldwater campaign.  Tuck had smuggled a spy, masquerading as a free-lance magazine writer,  aboard Goldwater's whistle-stop train. Her name was Moira O'Connor, and every morning she slipped copies of  a little newspaper, called "The Whistle Stop," under the doors of compartments occupied by journalists. One of them, Tuck remembers, said, "We are happy to report that the railroad has assured us that fluoride is not being added to the water on this train." Fluoridated water angered conservative Republicans in those days much as Obamacare does today.

  It was all in good fun, but Vic Gold, the deputy press secretary, was infuriated. He arose early, patrolled the sleeping cars, and caught Miss O'Connor in the act. Gold stopped the train  and ejected Miss O'Connor and her undelivered copies of  Tuck's phony newspaper. That night, Miss O'Connor made a triumphant appearance in the hotel barroom where most us were gathered. I think Tuck was there too. We gave Moira a rousing cheer.

 Although he was a dedicated Goldwaterite, we came to be enamored of Vic. Teddy White,  chronicler of presidential elections, said that Gold "carried (the journalists') bags), got them to the trains on time, out-shouted policemen in their behalf, bedded them down and woke them up, and before they knew it, the correspondents, about 95 percent anti-Goldwater by conviction, had been won to a friendship with the diminutive intellectual which spilled over onto his hero."

 I doubt the spilling-over business, but we enjoyed being with Vic Gold, especially when a car broke into a Goldwater motorcade. Gold's reaction would be frenzied. His face would turn deep red, he'd jump up and down, and he'd yell and scream. Of course we egged him on.     

 Dick Tuck and Vic Gold were fun. These guys  today are nasty.

James M. Perry, a prominent, veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com.  Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of the Wall Street Journal until his retirement.  Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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