Miller Center

Behind the Scenes on Election Night

Election Night

Conversation W H6411–01–6121

Date: November 3, 1964
Time: 5:57 PM
Location: LBJ Ranch

President Johnson: How are you, Hubert?

Humphrey: Well, I’m fine. And how are you?

President Johnson: Oh, I’m just kind of broken up. I’m aching all over. I’ve got a headache. And my damn bones—hip’s hurting me, and I just—I’m just worn out. I just called you because I hadn’t bothered you, and I didn’t want to, and I didn’t think it—I didn’t think it was a good thing to do, but I wanted to tell you first, before I told anybody else, that you had no orders and you had no instructions and you had no mistakes and . . . I just don’t know how anybody could do any better than that.

Humphrey: Well, Mr. President, you’re wonderful to me. We worked hard and I enjoyed it very much.

President Johnson: Well, you and your wife and your family are just perfect, and I was . . . I was awfully convinced about . . . the night I went up to Atlantic City, but I’m a lot more convinced tonight.1 And . . . everybody makes some mistakes and you’ve got to ride them out, and you’ve got to suffer with them and understand them. But you and Muriel [Humphrey] didn’t make—didn’t slip a bauble and your family and I just wanted all of you to—

Humphrey: Well—

President Johnson: —take whatever little comfort that you knew that Lady Bird [Johnson] and I loved you. And—

Humphrey: Well, we love you Mr. President, and Lady Bird, and we’ve been thinking about you. I haven’t wanted to bother you either. I know you were on the move every day, but we’ve been keeping in touch with your boys.

President Johnson: Well, that’s the way to—that’s—the way you’ve handled it—you’ve handled it just perfect and I couldn’t improve on it. And I’d just give you an A++ and you’ll probably never get that good of a grade again.

Humphrey: [Laughs.]

President Johnson: I don’t—

Humphrey: We’re going to have a big victory tonight, Mr. President.

President Johnson: I don’t pass many of them out, but I feel that way about it. I hope so. I don’t know. I’m sitting here with old Homer Thornberry and they’re rubbing me.2 I’ve got a bad hip. I’ve got a—I’ve been standing on my right leg. Your hip ever hurt you?

Humphrey: Yes sirree, and I’ll tell you, you know that I had a period in this campaign when I thought my hips and legs were going to kill me.

President Johnson: Well, you just did perfect. You wounded up happier. I told the press this morning you were happier when you started—end than you were when you started and you’re more effective and . . .

Humphrey: Well—

President Johnson: Oh, that television. Those television—I saw them—I didn’t see them on tv but I saw them on the practice thing ahead of time.

Humphrey: Yeah.

President Johnson: And they were just perfect. Oh, you were so restrained and so effective, and you looked, by God, just as fresh as a daisy. You must have done—

Humphrey: Well, I felt good. I felt good. And I think we got some good licks in out the West Coast, Mr. President.

President Johnson: Well—

Humphrey: Last day or so.

President Johnson: I know. You seem like you had wonderful crowds.

Humphrey: Yes, sir, we surely did. And I stopped by Salt Lake City on the way home just to get in another punch or two on some state-wide TV, and I was very careful and very restrained. I didn’t go on any attack. I just talked about the issue of public morality in terms of public service.

President Johnson: Oh, Hubert, I wish you’d see what these sons-of-bitches have done. They bought four full-page ads in most papers. Some of them just got 12 pages, some 16. Four full-pages in this state, and it’s all integrity and morality—

Humphrey: I know.

President Johnson: —and [Bobby] Baker3 and [Walter W.] Jenkins4 and Billie Sol Estes5 and . . .

Humphrey: I know. They had five full pages in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. Five full pages!

President Johnson: And they’ve got out an instruction from the—the Negro Protective League that says that any negro that goes to vote, that the Protective League just wants to inform them, as their friend, that if he’s ever had a traffic ticket, if he’s ever been under suspicion, if he’s ever been speeding, if he’s ever had an over-parking ticket, if he ever hadn’t paid his taxes on time, if he’s ever been discharged from employment, that he’ll have to report right away to the sheriff and that these things will have to be settled before he can clear his record to vote.

Humphrey: God!

President Johnson: And they put those out in all seven cities. Just the meanest, dirtiest, low-down stuff that I ever heard. Ought to go to jail for it. It’s just—it’s just inhuman.

Conversation W H6411–01–6108

Date: November 3, 1964
Time: 5:11 PM
Location: LBJ Ranch
Participants: President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy

The previous day, Johnson had left Washington after a meeting with his national security team and stumped in Houston and Austin. The events went on into the night and Johnson returned to Johnson City to stay at his ranch for the night. On election day, having spent the day at his ranch near Johnson City, Texas, Johnson voted at the Blanco County Court House in Johnson City and then went to the Driskill Hotell in Austin to await election returns.

Bundy: Well, thank you, Mr. President. And how have you been? It must have been a long day for you.

President Johnson: I just fell apart, Mac. I just fell apart. I’m just so damn—my back is killing me. My head is hurting. I haven’t been up all day, and—

Bundy: Well, you shouldn’t, though. I gather you had time to show the boys how to draw water from a well. That hit the tickers nicely and [unclear] sharp.

President Johnson: Well, I did early this morning. I got to bed late, and then I went and got up early. But we had a—oh, we had a—people are so good. They’re so good.

Bundy: I’m sure you’ve had the most wonderful welcome down there.

President Johnson: [‘’with Bundy assenting throughout] We had—they never had anything in 100 years like it is, probably 125,000 and just as far you could see. Had as many almost as the town’s got, and not an ugly sign and not an ugly word. And we didn’t have any bitterness in our—we just said that “Here we are, and we prepared for this, and if it’s your will we’ll continue, OK.” And we got a great country, and we got . . . we’re blessed and it was just a wonderful evening. It was a very touching evening, but I got so sore today. I didn’t realize how much I’d been doing and how high up on the mountain I’d been. I got—I’d been keyed too high.

Bundy: Well, you’ve just been living on air and on nerve for a month now, and I—we—I can promise you, Mr. President, that we are—we’re all right here, and we’re—none of us going anywhere any further than our desks for the next few days until we get sorted out, and there isn’t anything that needs a hurried decision. . . . 

Conversation W H6411–01–6109

Date: November 3, 1964
Time: Unknown
Location: LBJ Ranch
Participants: President Johnson and Bill Moyers

Moyers: I went by to see Walter [Jenkins] this afternoon, the first time I’ve been by. They told me I shouldn’t go into him today. He’s feeling good.

President Johnson: What’d he say?

Moyers: Well, he just hopes it’s a big margin, because he said you’ve got everything at stake and he’s got a lot at stake too on the size of it. He feels if it’s close it’ll be his fault. If it’s not, you won despite him. But, he was in good outlook. He said he and Marg are going to take off as soon as he gets out of the hospital, and go away for awhile, think about what they ought to do. He’s had a number of job offers, didn’t know what he would do, but he—they would think about it when they got away. He was actually in good spirits.

President Johnson: Does he know we love him?

Moyers: Yes, sir.

President Johnson: Please tell him we do. More than anybody in the world.

Moyers: I’m going to call him from time to time tonight. Check with the doctor.

President Johnson: Tell we just love him more than anything in the world.

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Well, I just fell apart. My back’s hurting. My head’s hurting. I’m aching all over. And I’ve got a headache. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been in bed all day long.

Moyers: Well, just take it easy. I wish you’d go get some sun somewhere in Key West, or something like that.

President Johnson: [yawning] Well, I’m tired of Vietnam. I got to hang up. Tell the Operator to get me [State Secretary Dean D.] Rusk.

Conversation W H6411–01–6111

Date: November 3, 1964
Time: Unknown
Location: LBJ Ranch
Participants: President Johnson and Dean Rusk


Rusk: .... What reports do you get from around the country?

President Johnson: Oh, nothing that you can tell anything about. I’ve just got a sore back, sore hip, been hurting, man I’m sore. Sore head and then had a headache all day, and I’ve been in bed all day. I just kind of came off the mountain, you know? I’ve been kind of keyed up, and I’m just kind of feeling punch-drunk.

Rusk: Yeah. Well, you need to get rest and get it if you possibly can the next few days.

On the reliability of early projections:

Conversation W H6411–01–6118

Date: November 3, 1964
Time: Unknown
Location: LBJ Ranch

Bill Moyers: Did you hear about Kentucky?

President Johnson: No.

Moyers: It’s declared you the winner. Half the vote is in and enough to assure you’re carrying Kentucky. Ollie Quayle projects 65 percent in Kentucky. Indiana, he projects 51 percent. Tennessee—

President Johnson: Well, that’s too damn close.

Moyers: It’s awfully close down and in—well, it’s not too close in Indiana, for that state. Kentucky, 65 percent. Nationwwide, he projects 63 percent.1 [Unclear]—

President Johnson: How in the hell can he project when he don’t know a damn thing?

Moyers: I don’t know those—well, I don’t know the way those machines work.

President Johnson: Well, they haven’t got anything in them to work.

Moyers: They’ve got scattered—scattered returns and the basis of the make-up, the composite of the return—

President Johnson: Who is he projecting with? What machines has he got?

Moyers: He’s at [the American Broadcasting Company] ABC. Theirs is called—I don’t know what they call it. It’s one of the [unclear]—

President Johnson: [Speaking off the phone] I’ve got you [unclear] worse than it is.

Moyers: Pardon?

President Johnson: [Speaking into the phone] I’m telling a fellow here—my hip’s killing me and I’m trying to get him to work it.

Moyers: All right. But he told me—he told us the projection of 65 percent in Kentucky and just—they just now announced over—over the tv, over channel 7, ABC, that Kentucky had declared you the winner on the basis of 51 percent of returns being in.

Dictabelt 06A.2

Date: November 7, 1962
Time: Unknown

This recording includes many points at which the Dictabelt needle skipped, leading to frequent repetition and much of the conversation being garbled.

Operator: Mr. President?

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Operator: He’s in a conference room down on the fifth floor. They’ll send for him.

President Kennedy: O.K. No hurry.

Operator: [Unclear.]

President Kennedy: [Needle skips] do it in ’60. Hell, I’d gotten them all in shape, so that— [needle skips] Huh?

Pat Brown: Well, let me just tell you this—

President Kennedy: I’ll tell you this, you reduced him to the nut house.

Pat Brown: Listen, but you gave me instructions and I follow your orders [unclear].

President Kennedy: [Chuckling]I understand. But God, that last farewell speech of his . . .

Pat Brown: Wasn’t that terrible?

President Kennedy: Well, no but it shows. . . [needle skips] . . . what’s going to happen [needle skips] out there.

Pat Brown: I don’t see how he can ever recover. [Needle skips] the leaders.

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Pat Brown: [Goodwin] Knight walked out on him. [Joe] Shell told me [needle skips]. This is a peculiar fellow. [Needle skips] I really think he’s psychotic. He’s an able man, but he’s nuts.1

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Pat Brown: Like a lot of these paranoics, they’re. . . But [needle skips] good job.

Conversation 033–060

Date: November 8, 1972
Time: Unknown between 1:16 am and 1:28 am
Location: White House Telephone

On November 7, 1972, Richard M. Nixon won reelection in the biggest Republican presidential landslide of the Cold War, getting 60.7 percent of the vote compared to Democrat George McGovern’s 37.5 percent. He won the electoral votes of every state except Massachusetts.

White House Operator: Mr. President?

President Nixon: Hello, yeah.

White House Operator: [National Security Adviser] Dr. [Henry A.] Kissinger, and also from Senator [Hubert H.] Humphrey [D-Minnesota], he is speaking, and it’ll be a few moments before we can get him.

President Nixon: Yeah.

White House Operator: I have Dr. Kissinger.

President Nixon: Hello.

White House Operator: Dr. Kissinger, go ahead, please.

President Nixon: Hello.

Henry Kissinger: Mr. President?

President Nixon: Well, Henry, how are you?

Kissinger: I just wanted to extend my really warmest congratulations—

President Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: This is—

President Nixon: We all knew it was going to happen and . . . but we got our 60 percent.

Kissinger: Well, but [unclear]. Well, we didn’t . . . one couldn’t really be sure until one had seen it.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And every state except Massachusetts and maybe Minnesota, although I think we’ll get that, too.

Kissinger: It’s an extraordinary tribute.

President Nixon: You know, this fellow [Senator George S. McGovern, D-South Dakota, the Democratic presidential candidate] to the last was a prick. Did you see his concession statement?

Kissinger: Oh, he started out—

President Nixon: He was very gracious in the beginning.

Kissinger: And then he went right back to saying that—

President Nixon: And [White House Speechwriter] Ray Price just sent me in a [draft] wire [from Nixon to McGovern] saying that “I look forward to working with you and your supporters for peace in the years ahead.” And I just said, “Hell, no, I’m not going to send him that sort of a wire.”

Kissinger: Absolutely.

President Nixon: Don’t you agree?

Kissinger: Absolutely, Mr. President.

President Nixon: I mean, I used to argue with [White House Chief of Staff H.R.] Bob [Haldeman] about it, but I said, “Ray just doesn’t have the right sense of this sort of thing.”

Kissinger: No, he was ungenerous.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: He was petulant.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Unworthy.

President Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: It was—he—

President Nixon: As you probably know, I responded in a very decent way to him, but that’s—

Kissinger: Well, I thought that was a great statement.

President Nixon: That’s as far as I could go, though. But I’m not going to say much to him. Well, anyway, it was a good day. We had a terrible time in the damn Senate. We’re going to end up with, probably, 44, but it isn’t worth a damn anyway. And frankly—

Kissinger: It was a pity, because we lost some people we [unclear].

President Nixon: Well, we lost Margaret Smith, [R-Maine], but she’s 74 years old. We lost Jack Miller, [R-Iowa] because he’s a jackass.

Kissinger: That’s right.

President Nixon: And we lost Caleb Boggs, [R-Delaware] because he’s too old. He’s 68.

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: Isn’t he? There’s your problem.

Kissinger: With those three, we would’ve come much closer.

President Nixon: Yeah, well, it’s all right. It’s all right. We’ve worked with the—

Kissinger: But at any rate it’s a tremendous personal triumph, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Well, you know something, it’s hard for even the—all these left-wing columnists can do now is to piss on the not winning the Senate and the House and building the party, but they couldn’t care less about that. The main thing is, they know that we came up to bat against their candidate and beat the hell out of him.

Kissinger: And came up against their issue and turned it into an asset.

President Nixon: That’s right. Don’t you think so? Don’t you feel that?

Kissinger: You made Vietnam your issue.

President Nixon: And thank God it does—

Kissinger: [Unclear] weakness, the whole approach.

President Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: Year after year the media were harassing you. All the intellectuals were against you, and you’ve come around—

President Nixon: That’s right. That’s right.

Kissinger: —and had the greatest victory, I’m sure in terms of margin, that anyone has had.

President Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Well, it’s a tremendous triumph.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Well, anyway, Henry, have a good night’s sleep.

Kissinger: You have my warmest my good wishes.

President Nixon: Give ’em hell tomorrow.

Kissinger: [chuckling] Right, Mr. President.

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