December 9, 2007

Operation Overkill

In October 1970, the Nixon White House targeted Florida for a Republican renaissance. Ed Gurney's victory over Democratic lion LeRoy Collins in 1968 gave 'em a taste of power, a seat in the U.S. Senate. Pinellas County, Orange County, and Sarasota County--the geography of a new Republican loyal opposition party in Florida. If both Florida's Senate seats turned GOP, the party could claim a firm foothold in the Democratic South. The papers would eat it up. The national party would perk up.

So, Nixon spent two days in Florida stumping for Chiles' opponent, Congressman Bill Cramer of St. Petersburg. He spoke to thousands in Cramer's back yard. Heck, he even rallied in Tallahassee--the first time in decades since a U.S. president had been to Florida's capital.

Attorney General John Mitchell came to Florida, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. The Secretary of Transportation John Volpe flew in, too.

A Florida newspaper ran a great cartoon depicting an Army tank filled with Nixon and his emissaries, its long droopy barrel trained on Chiles' lone walking figure.

President Nixon later acknowledged to Senator Chiles that he knew Walkin' Lawton would prevail when he beat Farris Bryant in the primary runoff 2-to-1.

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