your connection to The Boston Globe

In '72, Nixon had Bay State on his mind

Tapes reveal anger, elation after reelection

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On Election night 1972, as President Nixon learned he was on his way to winning 49 states in his reelection campaign, his thoughts kept returning to the one state that was slipping away: Massachusetts.

"One hell of a landslide, Mr. President," White House aide Charles W. Colson told Nixon, according to a new batch of secretly recorded White House tapes made public yesterday. But Nixon wasn't satisfied.

"How about Massachusetts?" the president asked. Hearing that he might lose there, Nixon said, "I must say if we got to lose one, let's lose that one."

But Nixon received some surprising good news from the Bay State: Democrat John F. Kerry, the anti war leader who had repeatedly bashed Nixon while campaigning for the Lowell congressional seat, lost to Republican Paul W. Cronin. As the news clattered across a noisy ticker machine in the Oval Office, Nixon was jubilant. "Cronin beat Kerry in Massachusetts!" he crowed to another top assistant, H.R. Haldeman. "Great!"

The conversations are among 11 hours of tapes released at the National Archives facility here in suburban Washington, one of a series of distributions that will continue for years as Nixon administration recordings are declassified. Hundreds of hours of tapes have already been made public, but yesterday's releases were the first that included Nixon's conversations about his reelection.

The tapes show Nixon in anger and glory, exulting at his historic landslide reelection, belittling Republicans who lost congressional campaigns, and disparaging his vanquished opponent, Democratic nominee George McGovern.

The tapes start several days before Election Day , with Nixon condemning McGovern's attacks on the Vietnam War as "unconscionable" and "vicious." The investigation into Watergate-related events was all but dismissed.

"What about Watergate?" Nixon asked Colson as the two discussed a pollster's findings about the election. Colson replied that investigators were "not getting anything" and that Vietnam "knocked that off people's minds."

In theory, he said, "people are only thinking about one thing at a time right now. They are thinking about the end of the war, and that's helped the confidence in your leadership, and that's stopped the erosion, and it's stopped people thinking" about the scandal.

"They have more confidence in me than McGovern," Nixon concluded.

Despite his landslide reelection, Nixon didn't bother to hide his disdain for the election's losers in a telephone call with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger. In coarse, salty language, the president said McGovern had been unkind "to the last," adding that defeated Republican congressional candidates were too old or too mean to win. He told Kissinger that the White House press secretary wanted Nixon to send McGovern a gracious note offering to work together "for peace in the years ahead."

Nixon refused. "I just said, 'Hell, no, I'm not going to send him that sort of a wire.' "

The National Archives released the tapes on the same day that it transferred control of much of its Nixon administration material to his presidential library in Yorba Linda, Calif. As a condition, the library agreed to state more clearly that the Nixon White House was involved in an illegal cover up that led to Nixon's resignation.

Rick Moss, a historian who listened to the newly public tapes at the Archives yesterday, said the recordings give the public the first significant glimpse inside Nixon's state of mind in the closing days of the 1972 presidential campaign.

To a surprising degree, Massachusetts -- a political longshot for Nixon -- was a preoccupation.

With four days to go before the election, Nixon quizzed Colson about his prospects, knowing the possibility of victory at the polls there had special appeal to Colson, a Bay State native.

In an indication of how intent Nixon was on taking the state, he sent his wife, Pat, to a Boston rally one week before Election Day that drew 6,000 supporters and a similar number of protesters, chanting slogans such as "Nixon-Agnew, you can't hide. We charge you with genocide."

After being introduced by comedian Bob Hope, Pat Nixon took notice of the many youthful protesters, saying, "Here in America, we respect people of all ages and we want them on our team." The Globe gave her appearance front-page treatment with the headline: "Mrs. Nixon at Hub gala, thousands protest."

As President Nixon and Colson discussed his electoral prospects days later in the Oval Office, the Bay State came up again. "What do you hear from Massachusetts?" Nixon asked Colson.

"Well, I've had several reports as a result of Mrs. Nixon's . . . confrontation, all of which lead our people to say we are going to squeak it out," Colson responded. "It's 50/50."

Nixon pondered the assessment, then blurted: "Well, if we don't, hell -- let Massachusetts be where it belongs."

"I'd love to do it," Colson answered. "It's personal. I'd love to bring that one in."

Nixon counseled, "Got to realize it's a longshot."

After learning that Massachusetts voters had rejected him, Nixon ruminated about the defeat in several conversations, concluding that the anti war view and publicity about Watergate "probably cost us Massachusetts." But when he met with Colson in an election post mortem, the president could not resist ribbing him.

"I guess you lost your job," Nixon told Colson. "You lost Massachusetts!"