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Nixon's nemesis still kicking: Dick Tuck turns 90

The man whose pranks may have set off the chain of events that ultimately brought down a U.S. president celebrated his 90th birthday in Tucson last week. Political trickster Dick Tuck still despises Richard Nixon, whom he dogged for decades. Tuck wants Aug. 9, the date of the 1974 resignation of the 37th president, declared a national holiday: "Nixmas."

Tuck, still cracking political jokes entering his tenth decade, remains fixed on Nixon — he says his editor is shopping a book on the Republican's resignation to major publishers. 

About 30 well-wishers sang "Happy Birthday" to Tuck in a gathering Saturday afternoon at The Shanty, 401 E. 9th St.

After blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Tuck called for "Nixmas" to be made a federal holiday.

"It's one of the most important days in our history. We drove the rat out," he said.

Tuck's first pranks against Nixon came in the 1950 race to elect California's U.S. senator. Tuck was working for U.S. Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas, who was running against Nixon, and was inadvertently asked to set up a campaign stop for the Republican.

Tuck rented a large assembly hall, and invited only a few people to attend.

His most famous trick came as Nixon ran for governor of California in 1962. At a campaign event in Chinatown, Tuck passed out signs that read "welcome" in English for children to hold in the background — the signs also read in Chinese, "What about the Hughes loan?," a reference to a controversial loan made by billionaire Howard Hughes to Nixon's brother, Donald.

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Learning of the stunt, Nixon grabbed a sign and tore it up.

Tuck later learned that the signs actually read, "What about the huge loan?" — little solace to Nixon.

In 1966, Tuck ran for office himself, seeking a state Senate seat in California. After placing third out of eight candidates in the Democratic primary, Tuck quipped, "The people have spoken, that bastards."

An advisor to Robert F. Kennedy in his 1968 presidential run, Tuck was standing next to the candidate when he was assassinated.

His years of bedeviling Nixon have a connection to the president's downfall: Nixon was obsessed with Tuck's pranks. His name is mentioned in the Watergate tapes ("Dick Tuck did that to me. Let's get out what Dick Tuck did!" "Shows what a master Dick Tuck is ... (Donald) Segretti's hasn't been a bit similar."), and Tuck maintains the break-in that led to the cover-up and ultimately Nixon's resignation was aimed at obtaining information the Democratic National Committee had about Hughes' relationship with Nixon.

After years of serving as a political advisor to Democratic politicians, Tuck served as a political editor for the National Lampoon. Born in Hayden, Arizona, he retired to Tucson, where he's a common sight in Bermuda shorts and brightly colored socks.

Saturday, Tuck said if he were still actively pranking politicians, he might go after Chris Christie.

"The New Jersey governor, he's a big target," Tuck said with a smile, forking into a slice of birthday cake.

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

One of Tuck's birthday gifts was a copy of a November 1970 issue of Life Magazine, which covered 'The Young Nixon.'