On 3 November 1949 Nixon formally announced that he would run for the U.S. Senate from California. Nixon packaged himself as the "Champion of the Forgotten Man", and his campaign slogan was a "Fighting, Rocking, Socking Campaign". Nixon's opponent was Congresswoman
Helen Gahagan Douglas, who was a former actress and was married to the actor Melvyn Douglas. Douglas was very liberal, and an added benefit for Nixon was that she wasn't a very good politician or campaigner. Douglas' Democratic opponents had already labeled her "The Pink Lady", as well as "Pinko" and "Red Queen", and Nixon's campaign used the same labels and tactics.
Douglas slung back at Nixon indiscriminately; she actually attacked Nixon as being soft on Communism. Nixon's campaign put out the "Pink Sheet", attacking Douglas with a pink pamphlet that was sent throughout California. An increasingly desperate Douglas labeled Nixon as "Tricky Dick" . . . that negative nickname stuck with Nixon for the rest of his political career.
On Election Day, 7 November 1950, Nixon was sure that voter turnout would be low and that he would lose (perhaps Nixon's greatest flaw was wallowing in self-pity, even when things were going well). But Nixon won in a landslide by over 20% of the vote, which was the largest margin of victory in the 30+ Senate races in the Congressional Elections of 1950. Nixon was only 37 years old, and was already a U.S. Senator from one of the most powerful states. However, among the Eastern Establishment, "Tricky Dick" became an object of derision. Herb Lock, a political satirist and cartoonist in the Washington Post, created a caricature of Nixon that featured dark jowls, a ski-jump nose, and beady eyes. Prominent Establishment magazines seemed to delight in poking fun at Nixon as a morality-free parvenu (a person of obscure origin that has gained fame and/or wealth).
These Establishment magazines were small in circulation, but were influential among intellectuals and academics, especially for "Ivy Leaguers". Georgetown society (the "Georgetown Set", among them was Katharine Graham, the first female C.E.O. in US History) became the most powerful and vocal against Nixon. In Nixon's mind, the Georgetown Set became "Enemy #1" . . . Richard and Pat Nixon weren't social outcasts, but getting to be included among the DC Elites (a.k.a. the "Swells") wasn't easy.
Nixon first saw Dwight Eisenhower during his homecoming parade after World War II. The second time Nixon saw Ike was when, as a member of the Herter Committee, Ike briefed the members on aspects of the Marshall Plan in Europe in 1948. The third time was when Nixon was invited to the beyond-exclusive Bohemian Grove, which was a two week closed retreat with some of the nation's most powerful men. Nixon was invited by former President Herbert Hoover, and Ike was there as well, basically being "checked out" by the Club as to his Presidential timbre. The fourth time Nixon saw Ike was in Europe during May 1951, where Ike personally told Nixon that he was impressed that he had got Alger Hiss "fairly". At that point, Nixon was an "Eisenhower Man", and by the spring of 1952, Nixon was hearing rumors that he might be Ike's Vice-Presidential running mate if Ike won the nomination at the
Republican National Convention.
Nixon was indeed selected to be Ike's V.P. and he was summoned to meet Ike at his hotel. Nixon's attempt at bonhomie fell flat when he entered the room and greeted Ike with a hearty "Hi Chief"; Ike, like George Washington, harbored a certain reserve, and didn't appreciate informality. Nixon and Ike tried to bond at least somewhat (e.g. fly fishing, golf), but to no avail, largely because Nixon was an incredible klutz, and Ike only had so much patience.
Nixon's role in Eisenhower's Presidential campaign was to be the one on the attack against the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson, so Ike could be "above the fray". Nixon was performing a part, but he enjoyed campaigning in that manner. Soon, however, a headline would bring about the greatest political crisis that Nixon had experienced to that point . . . the headline from the New York Post read: "Secret Nixon Fund!" with the subheading "Secret Rich Man's Trust Fund Keeps Nixon in Style Far Beyond His Salary".
Ike suggested to Nixon that he use national television to make his case, which Nixon had also considered. Nixon wanted to know if he could have immediate and public support from Ike after his televised speech, and Ike held firm that he would wait a few days to see which way the wind was blowing. Nixon deliberated and thought, and then recalled that FDR in 1944 effectively ridiculed his Republican enemies using his beloved Scottie Fala. So, Nixon had his strategy, but he also knew that he and Pat would have to endure public scrutiny of their finances, which would show the nation (and the Establishment) how little they had in terms of assets relative to their debts. Nixon did not like the reality that he would lay bare his and Pat's relative pauperism to the Georgetown Set and the Establishment Elite. But most galling to Nixon was that Stevenson had the exact same campaign fund, but the press treated him with kid gloves.
In what became known as the "Checkers Speech" (Nixon called it the Fund Speech), Nixon stated that the only gift that he or his family had ever accepted was a puppy that his daughters loved, and had named "Checkers". Nixon touted his success with exposing Alger Hiss, and stated that he wasn't a quitter. Nixon also discussed his finances, including debts, and closed with saying the decision whether he remained Ike's VP wasn't his, it was America's decision.
After Nixon's speech, the verdict was unanimous within the Georgetown Set and the Establishment: Nixon was hammy, hokey, holier-than-thou, full of self-righteous pity and guilty of emotional fraud. Yet for most of America, Nixon's televised address was brilliant political theater; Nixon knew that the Establishment Elites would make fun of him, but the Average American would be moved. It's no wonder that hating Nixon became an obsession with the Liberal Elite, since he outfoxed them once again.
Nixon's speech was the most-viewed telecast ever to that point on television, and it was a huge ratings smash on radio as well. Once Nixon returned to his hotel, he saw the torrent of support; Ike had sent a glowing telegram, but it was lost among the throng of the other telegrams, and Nixon was crestfallen that he didn't receive any positive feedback from Ike. Very soon after the speech, Ike summoned Nixon to meet him on board his train that was at
Wheeling, West Virginia. Ike told Nixon that "you're my boy", and they campaigned together for a brief time.
After the "Checkers Speech", Pat's political ambition waned, but she never stopped supporting her husband. Another result of the speech was that Nixon no longer cultivated reporters . . . it was official, to Nixon the media was pro-Establishment Elite and was now his main enemy. Eisenhower and Nixon won in a landslide in the Election of 1952, with the Electoral Vote 442 - 89, the popular vote 55.2% to 44.3% (34.1 million to 27.4 million) and 39 states to 9 states.