LBJ’s Election Analysis

On Election Night, just before the polls closed, the President heard from Bill Moyers, who had visited Walter Jenkins; Johnson also joked with an aide about chances of John Williams losing in Delaware.


Bill Moyers: I went by to see Walter [Jenkins] this afternoon. First time I’ve been by. They told me I shouldn’t go until today. He’s feeling good.

President Johnson: [softly] What did 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 would be his fault. If it’s not, you won despite him.

But he was in good outlook. He said he and Marge are going to take off as soon as he gets out of hospital, and go away for a while and think about what they ought to do. He’s had a number of job offers—didn’t know what he would do. But they would think about it when they got away. He was actually in good spirits.

President Johnson: [Yawns.] Did you tell him 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—I checked with the doctor.

President Johnson: Tell him 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. I’ve got a headache—I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been in bed all day long.

Moyers: Just take it easy; I wish you’d go get some sun somewhere. Key West or something like that.

President Johnson: [Yawns.] I’m afraid of Vietnam.

[Break.]

President Johnson: Paul, you and Kenny [O’Donnell] aren’t worth a damn. Delaware and Iowa couldn’t get any better. How much do you bet on Delaware?

Paul Poppel: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: On [John] Williams being defeated. Oh, ho, ho, ho!

———

With the polls still open, the President called Hubert Humphrey, to thank the vice-presidential nominee for his efforts—and to complain about dirty politics from the GOP.


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 have just got 12 pages, some 16—four full pages in this state. And it’s all integrity, and morality—

Hubert Humphrey: I know.

President Johnson:—and [Bobby] Baker, and [Walter] Jenkins, and Billy Sol Estes. 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 “Negro Protective League” that says that any Negro that goes [and] votes that the Protective League just wants to inform him, as their friend, that if he’d ever had a traffic ticket, if he’d ever been under suspicion, if he’d ever been speeding, if he’d ever had a parking ticket, if he’d ever hadn’t paid his taxes on time, if he’d 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 Southern cities—just the meanest, dirtiest, low-down stuff that I ever heard. Ought to go to jail for it. It’s just inhuman.

———

By 10pm Eastern Time, Delaware governor Elbert Carvel was still leading John Williams, as Bill Moyers reported Senate results to the President.


President Johnson: I don’t know where—where are we picking them up?

Bill Moyers: Well, they think now that [California senator Pierre] Salinger’s going to pull ahead. Of course that’s—

President Johnson: Well, that’s not—

Moyers: We’re not picking it up. [Joseph] Tydings; we picked up Tydings. We’re going to pick up [Pennsylvania candidate Genevieve] Blatt if she continues. We’re going to pick up—

President Johnson: No, but you’re going to pick up Blatt and Bobby [Kennedy] and you’re going to lose [Ohio senator Stephen] Young and [Oklahoma senator Fred] Harris.

Moyers: That’s right, so that evens out.

President Johnson: Salinger is even. [Indiana senator Vance] Hartke would be even. Now, unless we can pick up Carvel—and God, I pray on that one.

Moyers: Oh, so am I. And he was just slightly ahead the last time.

President Johnson: OK, I guess that’s all.

Moyers: OK.

In the event, Johnson won overwhelmingly, capturing 44 states and the highest percentage of the popular vote in a presidential election until that time.

Both Bill Moyers and the President were up early the morning after LBJ’s overwhelming triumph. The President reported news that two of his leading House critics (Ben Jensen and H.R. Gross of Iowa) had lost. Gross, as it turned out, won on the strength of late-reporting votes—and, as Johnson lamented, so had John Williams, who came on late to register a three-point victory in Delaware.


President Johnson: I want to get a complete report on the Senate. I guess this son-of-a-bitch [John] Williams was re-elected.

Bill Moyers: He was.

President Johnson: By a very big vote?

Moyers: No, sir. By last count, it was about 8000.

[Break.]

Moyers: If we could get rid of those two [Jensen and Gross], you’d be in a real good situation. Really good, on the standpoint of—

President Johnson: Well, we’ve always got Williams.

Moyers: Yeah. And [Otto] Passman.

———

To Moyers, the President offered candid commentary on his defeat in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.


President Johnson: I’m sorry about Georgia.

I didn’t care about the other Southern states. Louisiana’s a bunch of crooks. And Mississippi is too ignorant to know any better, and Alabama’s the same way.

But Georgia knows better. And Georgia is a good state. We just got in a crossfire there.

Bill Moyers: Yes.

President Johnson: We had a young governor [Carl Sanders] that [Richard] Russell’s afraid is going to run against him, and he [Russell] wanted to penalize him.

———

Johnson also reached out to Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, hoping for bipartisan cooperation—while Dirksen teased the President about Williams’ victory.


President Johnson: I want to work awfully close with you, and I think you got a wonderful chance now to make a great contribution to your party, and to the country, too. And I just hope that you take the leadership on it, because we got awful nasty down here. It just got awful nasty.

Everett Dirksen: I understand so.

President Johnson: Billy Sol Estes and they threatened all the Negroes and they passed out this stuff saying, “We’re going to arrest you if you go vote.” It was the worst thing that you’ve ever seen in your lifetime.

We’ve got to keep our underlings, now, from going hog wild and becoming bitter. We’ve got to try to unite the country, and do like we did under Eisenhower, and at least present a united front if we can. Then we’ll slug it out again in ’68.

Dirksen: Yeah.

Well, I’ve only two comments to make. I did get a good exchange. I got a Hollywood actor [George Murphy, who upset Pierre Salinger] for our friend from New York [Kenneth Keating]. [Both laugh heartily.] So . . . that’s on the plus side.

And you almost licked my friend in Delaware.

President Johnson: [feigning surprise] I don’t know. What happened up there—did he have a close race?

Dirksen: He finally came through.

President Johnson: They told me that he just had—that our man . . . I dropped off there on the way to New York, but they told me that the governor just had 31 percent on the polls, and [John] Williams had 60-something. [In fact, just before he arrived in Delaware, LBJ had seen a private poll showing Carvel down by only four points.]

Dirksen: Yeah, but it turned out awfully close.

President Johnson: It did?

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Well . . .

Dirksen: I thought [Elbert] Carvel had a very interesting slogan: “What Delaware wants in the Senate is not a policeman but a statesman.” [Both laugh.] Do you think that’s cute?

President Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. John’s been a little rough on us. A little rough on us. And he and his secretary are going to have to quieten down some. They oughtn’t to be so mean to us, now.

———

With more time to reflect, the President grew more unsettled—as this excerpt with longtime confidante and New York party chairman Eddie Weisl revealed.


President Johnson: Eddie, you’ve got to do this, and you’re the only one that can do it. You’re the one that can get things done, like this Walter [Jenkins] report. The rest of them just talk about it.

We don’t have any propaganda machine, and we don’t have anybody that can get out our stuff.

Now, Ray Moley [of Newsweek] started this story that they were just voting against Goldwater, and they didn’t like either one of us, and that Johnson didn’t have any rapport [with the people], and he didn’t have any style, and he was a buffoon, and he was full of corn, and . . .

[Break.]

President Johnson: So the Bobby Kennedy group—they kind of put out this stuff, and the little Kennedy folks around, that nobody loves Johnson.

They’re going to have it built up by January that I didn’t get any mandate at all, that I was just the lesser of two evils, and people didn’t care, and so on.

[Break.]

President Johnson: Somebody’s got to try to get the Times to give us a little approach. Because the first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to try and make a Warren Harding out of us on account of [Bobby] Baker and Jenkins—

Eddie Weisl: Yeah.

President Johnson: Second thing they’re going to do is say there’s no mandate.

Third thing they’re going to do is try and have the Southern coalition—they’re already working at it—to combine with the Republicans and not let us get anything.

If we don’t show that—even Roosevelt in ’36 never captured the number of people, and never had ‘em jumping in the air, and yelling, and giving the loyalty that we did.

In Iowa, I beat five of the six [Republican] congressmen! I had twice the crowd Eisenhower ever had. Now, they wrote about Eisenhower for eight years, but they’ve never written one word about us.

They’ve got to say something about the auditorium at Austin, Texas being filled at 2:30 in the morning, just waiting to see me—the people that knew me best. That they voted for me six and eight-to-one in my home boxes, that [William] Miller was losing. And the love, and the affection they had for 30 years.

Now, all they write about is not love and affection. They write, “Well, the lesser of two evils. Corn pone. Southern.”

Senate election results:

Pink: Republican hold
Red: Republican gain
Light Blue: Democratic Hold
Navy: Democratic Gain

House election results:

Legend:
██ 6+ Democratic seat pickup

██ 3-5 Democratic seat pickup

██ 1-2 Democratic seat pickup

██ 1-2 Republican seat pickup

██ 3-5 Republican seat pickup

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