Tuck first met Richard Nixon as a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1950, Tuck was working for Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas. She was running for a seat in the U.S. Senate against Richard Nixon. In a 1973 Time magazine article, Tuck stated, "There was an absent-minded professor who knew I was in politics and forgot the rest. He asked me to advance a Nixon visit." Tuck agreed and launched his first prank against Nixon. He rented a big auditorium, invited only a small number of people, and gave a long-winded speech to introduce the candidate. When Nixon came on stage, Tuck asked him to speak about the International Monetary Fund. When the speech was over, Nixon asked Tuck his name and told him, "Dick Tuck, you've made your last advance."
Tuck's most famous prank against Nixon is known as "the Chinatown Caper." During his campaign for Governor of California in 1962, Nixon visited Chinatown in Los Angeles. At the campaign stop, a backdrop of children holding "welcome" signs in English and Chinese was set up. As Nixon spoke, an elder from the community whispered that one of the signs in Chinese said, "What about the Hughes loan?" The sign was a reference to an unsecured $205,000 loan that Howard Hughes had made to Nixon's brother, Donald. Nixon grabbed a sign and, on camera, ripped it up. (Later, Tuck learned, to his chagrin, that the Chinese characters actually spelled out “What about the huge loan?”)
After the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, Tuck hired an elderly woman who put on a Nixon button and embraced the candidate in front of TV cameras. She said, "Don't worry, son! He beat you last night, but you'll get him next time."
Tuck is credited with waving a train out of the station while Nixon was still speaking, but he denies committing this prank. The prank became a Trivial Pursuit question, but cannot be attributed to Tuck. Tuck has said he did wear a conductor's hat and waved to the engineer, but that the train stayed put. He also played similar pranks against Barry Goldwater in 1964. He was dubbed by one newspaper, "the Democrat Pixie of 1964."
In 1968, Tuck utilized Republican nominee Nixon's own campaign slogan against him; he hired a very pregnant African-American woman to wander around a Nixon rally in a predominantly white area, wearing a T-shirt that said, "Nixon's the One!"
In 1966, Tuck ran for the California State Senate. He opened his campaign with a press conference at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale claiming that just because people had died doesn't mean they don't still have (voting) rights.
Hearing of Tuck's entry as a candidate, Richard Nixon sent him a congratulatory telegram, including an offer to campaign for him, despite his being a Democrat.
Dick Tuck designed his campaign billboards to read, in small print, "Dick," and in much larger lettering, "Tuck". The names were printed twice, piggy-backed one above the other. On the eve of the election he drove around the area and painted an extra line on the upper "Tuck" on the billboards. This converted the T in his name to an F so that passersby would see a profane phrase. Tuck said he thought voters would think his opponent had done this and he'd "get the sympathy vote" with this tactic. In a field of eight candidates for the Democratic nomination, Tuck finished 3rd with 5211 votes (almost 10% of votes), losing to future Congressman George Danielson.
As the ballot totals piled against him on Election Night, the candidate was asked his reaction. Referring back to his cemetery speech, Tuck quipped, "Just wait till the dead vote comes in." When defeat became inevitable, Tuck made the now notorious statement, "The people have spoken, the bastards."
Tuck was a key adviser in Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. After Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles, he rode in Kennedy's ambulance as the mortally-wounded candidate was rushed to the hospital.
Tuck was first and foremost a campaign operative, and claimed he was never malicious in his political pranks. Richard Nixon was obsessive towards Tuck, however, as recorded in his presidential tapes. But Nixon also admired Tuck, comparing the dirty tricks committed by his staffer Donald Segretti unfavorably to the intelligence and wit behind some of Tuck's political pranks. After the Watergate scandal became public, H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff under Nixon, saw Tuck in the Capitol. Haldeman reportedly turned to Tuck and said, "You started all of this." Tuck replied, "Yeah, Bob but you guys ran it into the ground."
Tuck also served briefly as political editor/adviser to the National Lampoon magazine.
As of 2006 Tuck was retired and living in Tucson, Arizona.
Virtually every great "prank" Dick Tuck claimed to have pulled or has been associated with him has been disputed in some way. Dick Tuck often confessed and later denied his actions. He admitted to making up some of his pranks to author Neil Steinberg, who covered Tuck in his 1992 book If At All Possible, Involve A Cow: The Book of College Pranks.
However, Tuck is mentioned in an October 1972 Oval Office tape when Nixon, speaking to H.R. Haldeman about the Segretti disclosures, said, "Dick Tuck did that to me. Let's get out what Dick Tuck did!" Nixon goes on to describe egged limousines and staged violence in San José, Costa Rica. According to a 1997 The Washington Post article by reporter Karl Vick, Nixon was not the first to confuse Tuck's record with Tuck's legend.
White House tapes also record Nixon speaking with John Connally on October 17, 1972, stating Tuck had all of Goldwater's speeches in hand before they were spoken because, Nixon presumed, Tuck had an informant in the Goldwater campaign.
"I didn't hide what I did. I never tried to be malicious. It's just the difference between altering fortune cookies to make a candidate look funny and altering State Department cables to make it look as if a former President were a murderer." --Dick Tuck on the difference between himself and Nixon's Watergate operatives.
"The people have spoken, the bastards." --Dick Tuck's concession speech following his loss in the 1966 California State Senate election.
- County of Los Angeles, Results of the Official Canvass of Primary Election, June 7, 1966. Archive.org copy, results on page 345
- "The Man Who Bugged Nixon," Time, August 13, 1973.
- San Francisco Chronicle May 15, 1974 - R. Carrol
- California Living Magazine, June 23, 1974 - S. Berman
- The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California, 1977 - Curt Gentry, Comstock Publishers
- The Washington Post, June 17, 1997 - Karl Vick
- If At All Possible, Involve A Cow: The Book of College Pranks, August 1, 1992 - Neil Steinberg; St. Martins Press ISBN 0-312-07810-2
- Bruce Felknor, Dirty Politics, New York; W.W. Norton & Co., 1966; pp. 144-149; 156.